That first time..

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Husband and I. Our first picture together. Young and care-free.

I have currently registered for a ten-week online writing workshop. It was the top most from my have-to-accomplish-this-year lists and boy, it is so intensive. Makes me think harder, dig deeper, look into the well of my experiences and draw energy from there. Gather inspiration and dwell on it. I will write more about the workshop later, but in this second week, one assignment was to write about the List of Firsts. Here is a section from what I wrote.

The first time I failed an exam was when I was 13. A singing exam. My mom used to send me to her friend to learn Hindustani classical music. The Sa Re Ga Ma Pa was just not my cup of tea. I loved to sing and listen to music, but those alaaps and ragas were way beyond my comprehension. I sorta hated the class, the only silver lining being a guy from the neighbouring building used to come down to see me walk to to the class everytime. I was 13, stalking was glamorised by the Hindi movies and I loved being the centre of attention. I was the only one among my friends at that time who had a secret admirer. But once I failed that exam, (God! how miserable was the day of the test, the examiner would shudder everytime I answered her question), I convinced my mom or perhaps my teacher convinced mom that I should stop coming to the class. Good riddance, but those secret stalker/admirer sessions also came to an end.

The first real date husband and I went on was the Kala Ghoda festival. Six months before we got married. We knew each other since the 9th grade, but both of us had evolved from being gangly teenagers to what we were then. Still awkward, but more educated and more aware of the world around us. The freshness of that time still lingers in my head. To be 24 and independant without any major responsibilities, it was awesome.

I remember that first kiss way back when I was 18. He was my first real boyfriend, apart from the dozen crushes I had by the time I was that age. The anticipation of the first kiss was building over for a while, but there was no place where that coziness was permitted. And then about a couple months after we started dating, we were at a friend’s house after college. And that was the day. I remember stepping back and wanting to record every little thing about that awkward time. We were in my friend’s bedroom, her heap of clothes and pile of books were staring at me from the table and I was constantly worried that what if mom finds out where I am. I would be dead.

My first breakup was obviously with him, a year after we started dating. I was heart broken, ofcourse, but I vividly remember knowing that this was it. It was good while it lasted, but now was the time to move on.

When I was working in a bank, I used to smoke for about a year. It was cool back then. Being independant, being able to smoke without parents knowing it, hanging out with my 6-years-younger brother and smoking with his friends. How silly, yet how cool! But the first time I smoked, it was so disgusting. A group of us from the CA class would stand near a railway station (all of us aged 19-20) and we would pretend to be chic. I could never inhale it deeply and exhale, it would just be staccato bursts of in and out, in and out. And most of the time it would burn away between my fingers. Later I genuinely began to like it, and one particular brand of clove cigarattes was beautiful, but that was a different time and age. I haven’t smoked a single one since getting pregnant and having the baby, and I dont want to get back to it. Ever. But again, it was a good time in life. And I will remember it for that.

I read somewhere recently, that the period from 15-25 is the period we remember the most. It is the period of most novelties, the most number of firsts. It has a strong impact on our memory and I think it is also because theose events are most discussed. I remember, till the time we got married, me and my best friend would discuss about the day in detail, EVERYDAY. And dissect every little thing anyone said and make sense out of it. Now a lot of events are so mundane, they go unnoticed. Two days back, the husband came back from a 4 day tour. I felt as if I hadnt seen him in a long time and couldnt wait to snuggle in and cozy up in his warmth. This event could have made headlines with the said best friend, but in the larger scheme of things it feels very usual. Even un-romantic when it comes in context of marriage, but how important it was for me, at that time.

The first time I held my baby in my arms is also a very precious moment. He was perfect. I had made him. I always wanted to be a mom, and here I was. This little 3 kg dumpling would be my aankhon-ka-tara. And right now, we have a long list of firsts by him, in his first year, almost everything he is doing is for the first time. First smile, first little tooth, those first steps wobbly like a drunk, first time he said mumma, his first little kiss on my cheek – all of it is treasured beyond words.

Of course everything is documented now – a dozen photos and videos each day, so the list of firsts is extensive, but our generation relied on memory. We might be the last ones to do that.

Cheers,

Rutvika

Strawberry Meringue Tart

One of the best things I learnt in Le Cordon Bleu was Tarts and Pies. I absolutely love the concept of a fruit filling in crisp, flaky crusts and topped with cream or meringue. The rolled out pastry dough can be a bit tricky and needs some practice, but this pressed-in crusts are very easy to work with. Just mix the ingredients into a dough and press in into a tart pan.

This almond pastry is baked blind to a crisp biscuit like consistency and then filled with strawberries. You can replace it with any fruit you like say apples, mangoes, canned blueberry etc. If you don’t like the meringue topping , it’s beautiful though – soft and pillowy, you can top it with whipping cream and skip the last step of baking the meringue.

This recipe has been adapted from a book called Desserts which I had picked up at a flea market, many years back.

Strawberry Meringue Tart in an almond pastry

Strawberry meringue tart

What you will need :

For the almond pastry :

  • 2/3 cup butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup castor sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 cup (about 100 grams) finely ground and sieved almonds
  • 1 and 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Filling :

  • 2 cups strawberries, sliced or chopped (about 400 grams)
  • 1/2 cup castor sugar

Meringue topping :

  • 4 egg whites
  • 2/3 cup castor sugar

Process of meringue

What to do :

  1. Lightly butter and flour a 9-inch tart and a 5 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
  2. To prepare the pastry, combine all the ingredients in a food processor or a mixer and process to form a stiff dough.
  3. Remove it on a plate and knead a couple of times till it all comes together.
  4. Firmly press it at the bottom and sides of the tart pan. Prick it all over with a fork and let it chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  5. Pr-heat oven to 170C and bake it for 20-25 minutes until form and golden. let it cool completely.
  6. To prepare the meringue, beat the egg whites till stiff peaks form. Gently beat in castor sugar.
  7. Combine strawberries and castor sugar.
  8. Now once the tart shell is completely cooled, pile spoonfuls of meringue on the edges of the tart. Fill the centre with the strawberry mixture. Now pile the remaining meringue on the top of the strawberries.
  9. Bake for 10-15 minutes in a preheated oven at 220C for 10-15 minutes, till the crust is firm and the top of meringue is browned.

Strawberry tart full

Notes :

  • If you are worried about the egg whites staying undercooked, you can bake it for another 5 minutes, till it get firmer.
  • I have used unbalanced almonds, directly powdered in the mixture. I prefer the nuttiness of un-blanched almonds.
  • I used a 9 inch shallow tart pan and a 5 inch smaller pan because I had leftover pastry. If you have a deeper pan, it will all fit into a 9 inch pan.

 

 

The fault in ourselves

Baba putting away glasses

Baba putting away his glasses before a photo

A few years ago when Baghbaan, the Amithabh Bacchan starrer was released, I had not seen it. It was too old-fashioned and the same stereotyped rona-dhona of parents vs. kids did not interest my 17 year old self at all. But later when it was replayed countless times on television, I saw it in parts. And I also saw my dad- a police officer, no less, shed a few tears while watching the movie. (He is going to admonish me for writing this, but he reads the blog post only after I publish it, so there is no going back.) Baghban is a story of how children as adults mis-treat parents who have given up their life and dreams and money and house for the kids.

And then yesterday, I watched the marathi movie Natsamrat. It delves on a similar premise, but this man here Ganpatrao Belvalkar is an acclaimed theatre artist and an excellent actor. He sees a lot of fame and fortune in his heydays and eventually retires, transferring all his property to his son and daughter. It would be easy to say that they mis-treat him, but it is not that simple. The movie is complex and multi-layered. It did not let me sleep the entire night. I wanted that 165 minute movie to go on and on. I wanted Nana Patekar to keep talking, to keep bringing Shakespeare’s words alive on the screen. I was processing a lot of thoughts. You will realise when you see the movie (and you must – it also has English subtitles ) that ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.’

The fault in ourselvesOur heart goes out to Ganpatrao, but at the same time wondering what a fool he is to transfer everything he owns to his children. To not have a retirement plan. To have such faith in your kids that it makes you fool-hardy. To relinquish everything you owned for them in the hope and belief that they will care for you forever. On paper the idea sounds ridiculous, which stupid person does that?! But if you look around, you can count at-least a dozen people who have done so. That’s just the Indian way of being. But I wish my parents, my parents-in-law and the parents of everyone I know refrain from doing that. At any cost.

Nobody is evil or bad to begin with. In their own perspective they may not even be doing anything wrong, ever. But situations, circumstances make people act as they do. And it doesn’t take long for a situation to go out of hand. Because every unjust thing that happens or is done – is just slightly more weird than something that happened before that. In totality if you see the journey of decline of relationships from point A to point B, it feels how did they reach this level? Did they never look back and stop? But the comfort of hindsight is not available when you are going through the rigmarole of days and life. And eventually its too late to go back. To undo.

Financial stability has always been very important for me. Even when I was studying to become a professional, I wanted to get a degree which empowers me to be independent. Financially and otherwise. I cannot imagine what retired parents with limited savings feel especially after being the bread earners for all of their life. My grandparents atleast had retirement pension. That facility is not available to us. We have to make our own investment and retirement plans which go way beyond our children and their needs.

I am at an interesting position right now. Mother to a one year old son and a daughter and a daughter-in-law to two sets of very accomplished parents. I hope for all of us that we do not redeem our financial security against any emotional or psychological requirement of the time. Because ‘Money is a good soldier,sir.’.

Eggless Ginger Orange chocolate cake – #CaLbakes

Eggless ginger chocolate cake

For 5 months beginning November 2015, I am hosting a guided baking session on the Facebook foodie group called Chef At Large. The aim is to present baking recipes as simply as possible with the most commonly available ingredients, so it is easier for people to take that step into baking.

While testing recipes and documenting it so that everyone understands, I have learnt so much myself. And when people respond with pictures and feedback of something they made following this recipe, it feels quite good.

I hope I am doing justice to the initiative by offering as much as I know.

This eggless chocolate cake is for the month of November. With loads of pictures showing each step. Let me know what you think.

Eggless Ginger Orange chocolate cake

What you will need:

  1. one slab of 100 grams Amul butter, softened
  2. 20 grams of castor sugar
  3. 1/2 can of condensed milk (200 grams)
  4. 125 ml whole milk
  5. 125 all-purpose flour or maida
  6. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  7. 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  8. 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (or orange zest)
  9. 2 teaspoon orange juice
  10. 150 grams dark chocolate – melted completely

What to do :

  • In a big mixing bowl, take softened (but not melted) Amul butter. Add sugar to it and whisk.
  • Then to this add the condensed milk and whole milk and whisk well. Let it form a smooth mixture.

Steps 1-3 rec 1

  • In a separate bowl, take flour +baking soda + baking powder and first mix it with a spoon to distribute baking soda and powder throughout the flour. Then sift this once through a regular kitchen sieve.
  • Melt the chopped chocolate over a double boiler or in a microwave in 30 second intervals, whisking well at each interval.

chocolate melting

  • Now, to the butter mixture add the melted chocolate and whisk well till fully incorporated.
  • Then add the grated ginger or orange zest and orange or apple juice and mix.
  • Remove the whisk. Now with a rubber spatula, fold in the dry ingredients in two batches. Always move the spatula in one direction and the bowl in the other while folding. Me being right-handed, move the spatula from right to left with the right hand and the bowl from left to right with the left hand.

mixing and folding flour

  • Now pre-heat the oven to 180 C for 10 minutes and meanwhile prepare your pan.
  • Lightly butter and line your 6-8 inch baking pan with parchment paper at the bottom as well as the sides. Alternately you can line the bottom with a parchment paper and grease and flour the sides.
  • Pour the batter in the prepared pan.

Lining a pan and filling

  • Now bake the cake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes. Insert a skewer or a knife in the cake to check if it’s done.
  • Remove from the oven and let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes.
  • Take it out and let it cool completely on a wire rack.
  • There are several ways of making 2 layers of a cake. But the one I prefer the most is this desi jugaad style. For it, all you need is a steel plate, which has a side and covers about half the height of the cake and you also need a knife with serrated edges.

Layering a cake 1

  • Once the cake is completely cool, place it in the plate and taking that as an aid, cut the cake horizontally into two. Be careful to have your knife touching the edge of the steel plate at all times so that you get an even cut.

Layering a cake 2

  • Once cut from all sides, take a cake board or a simple cardboard will do and slide it between the two layers of the cake and separate them.
  • Now use the frosting or the ganache recipe and frost the cake or decorate it as you like.

Buttercream filling

Decorate the cake with a chocolate ganache and/or buttercream.

I have used the buttercream to sandwich between the cakes and frost the sides and ganache for decoration.

Ganache decoration

This post first appeared here.

 

Simple Chocolate Ganache

Ganache is a very versatile combination of cream and chocolate that can be used to decorate cakes and give that powerful flavour and slight moisture. it is one of my favourite way to eat a cake – topped with some ganache.

 

 

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Chocolate Ganache

What you will need :

  • 250 grams semi sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 170 ml fresh cream (I use 25% fat Amul cream)
  • 25 grams salted butter (I use Amul)

What to do :

  1. Put the chopped chocolate in a bowl.
  2. Heat the fresh cream and butter in a saucepan at medium heat till it starts sizzling on the sides. Take it off the heat just as it starts to boil.
  3. Pour the cream over the chopped chocolate and immediately put a lid on it.
  4. Let it stand for 5 minutes and then whisk it well till it is smooth and glossy.
  5. Ganache is ready.
  6. Let the ganache cool down while whisking at intervals. In the beginning it is of pourable consistency and then it will thicken as it cools down. Thick ganache is good for piping and filling.

Making a ganache

Example of poured ganache when it is still warm :

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Example of piped ganache when it cools down :

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Ganache decoration

The eternal dance of life and death.

Ajoba and us

When my grandfather passed away a couple days back, strangely, it felt like the most natural thing to happen. He was very old and had lived his life well. He was the oldest among ten siblings and he practically raised all of them. He took care of his parents and everyone around him and is survived by three children and their spouses, six grandkids and two great-grandkids. He was hale and hearty upto two months back and his memory never left him till he passed away. That kind of a death, I say, is a privilege.

It is not to say that his life was easy. He did three jobs, starting as a milk delivery man at 5 in the morning, then working in the Bombay Port trust and ending the day at 10 pm after teaching English at a class. He saw the death of his son who was barely eight years old. Being the eldest son in a big family he had several responsibilities and many a times people thought he was too strict. With his brothers and sisters, his kids and with his nephews and nieces who came to stay with him. But I guess, that was the only way to do it as all of them turned out to be fine.

But for us- his grandkids, ajoba was adorable. He was a robust tall man with intense grey-green eyes and ramrod straight back. He could easily intimidate anyone, but his face lit up when he smiled. I of course don’t remember, but I have heard stories of when I was a 2 year old girl, I would go and scribble the cheques which he had kept for grandma to sign. It must have ruined his work, but he would laugh about it. What I do remember is that he would always take me to the park and buy me candy floss. Let me take one extra round on the ghoda-gadi and pet that horse before we went home. I still love the giant-wheel outside the park and I plan to take my baby to the same one where he took me, all those years back.

From among six of his grand-kids, I think I was his favourite. May be each one of us thinks so, that’s the essence of being a good grandparent. But I can say for sure that he was mighty proud of me. When I did my CA, he would tell everyone that I was a first attempt CA. Even to strangers. Sometimes when I was a kid, he would call me his baayo- that’s what he called his mom

When my grandmother passed away four years back at the age of 77, grandpa thought she was too young to die. I wonder what he would have said about his age of 87, but I think he knew his time was up. When we went to meet him a week before he passed away, he held my husband’s hand for a long time. I wish he could have said something important, like a life lesson or so, but he was making jokes about the kind of liquid diet he was kept on. He sorely missed eating jalebis and cakes. He lived with diabetes for 47 years, but never a day passed when he did not have something sweet to eat. He worked hard, exercised till 2 months before his death and ate heartily. He lived well.

Someone told my dad to chant a particular mantra 1000 times for the next 10 days so that his father’s soul will get moksha soon. I hope my dad doesn’t do it, because I would like to believe that grandpa wants to come back to us, in one form or the other.

They say you die twice. Once when you stop breathing and the second, a bit later on, when somebody mentions your name for the last time. Grandpa will continue to live in our memories as long as we are alive and through stories we tell our children about him. About where we came from and where we are headed.

Take care.

Rutvika

 

 

 

Fried Coconut Modaks

For the Daring Kitchen challenge in September, I made a trio of modak. One of them is this fried modak with a desiccated coconut filling. It is delicious and can be stored for upto a week in an air tight container.

Step-by-step recipe :

Fried modaks

 

Fried Coconut Modaks

What you will need:

  • 100 grams desiccated coconut (khopra)
  • 2 tablespoon dry fruit powder (comprising of 4 almonds, 4 unsalted pistachios and 4 cashews)
  • 5 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tablespoon milk powder
  • 3 tablespoon water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder

For the covering / shell :

  • 1 heaped cup all purpose flour (145 grams)
  • 2 and 1/2 tablespoon heated oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For frying :

  • 2 cups vegetable oil

What to do:

  1. To make the filling, pulse dessicated coconut in a mixer till it breaks into crumbs.
  2. Dry roast it in a pan till slightly browned.
  3. Take it off heat and add the dry fruit powder, cardamom powder, milk powder and put it back in the vessel over heat.
  4. Add 5 tablespoons of condensed milk to it.
  5. Let it cook for 2-3 minutes till it becomes slightly dry. Take care to see that it doesn’t stick to the bottom.
  6. If it feels sticky, add another tablespoon of milk powder.
  7. Let the mixture cool down completely before using.

Making fried modak stuffing

 

  1. In another bowl, take one heaped cup all purpose flour, and add ¼ cup water with ½ teaspoon salt.
  2. In a small wok, heat 2 and half tablespoon oil. Once hot, add 1 tablespoon of rice flour and let it sizzle for a few seconds.
  3. Add this oil to the bowl with flour and mix it well. Knead it for 2 minutes. And then keep it aside for 30 minutes to soften.
  4. After that, pulse it in a food processor for a minute, take it out and knead with hands to bring it together to form a smooth dough.
  5. Divide the dough into 12 equal balls.

Fried modak shell

 

  1. Roll each ball into a disk and then take it into the palm of your hand. Stuff it with some mixture leaving ½ inch on all sides. Start pinching the corners into petals with the use of your index finger and thumb and middle finger on each side. Make several such petals all around the edge of the disk.
  2. Then start getting all the petals together by pressing it closer with your fingers. Seal the top and keep it covered with a damp towel till all are done.

Shaping a fried modak

 

  1. In a big wok, heat 2 cups of vegetable oil. Fry two modaks at a time. Insert it into the oil pointed side down so that once that side cooks a little bit, it won’t open up while the rest of the modak are fried.
  2. Drain it on kitchen paper and serve.

Frying a modak