Here’s a toast to a non-fussy Valentine’s day

Valentines day

Cheesy is as cheesy does.

There are a couple of Valentine’s days that I remember very vividly. Now at 31 it is not a big deal, but there was a time when it did mean a lot.

I was about 12 or 14 when the song ‘Chui Mui Si Tum’ had released. Remember that one with Preeti Jhangiani and Abbas and that weird teddy bear which clung to your tee-shirt with its paws and feet? Yep, it had become a huge craze and all the shops were lined with those teddy bears embroidered with Valentine messages. I was perhaps too young for anyone to give any Valentine’s gift to me, especially since my father was a police inspector then, but I wanted it so badly. And then I remember walking down to that shop with my dad and buying a small off-white teddy bear with a red jacket and black paws with a velcro. I had that one for several years, a Valentine’s gift from my dad. That teddy bear brought in a lot of promises for a youth filled with cheesy indie-pop love songs.

Later as we were growing up, there were countless number of Valentine’s days celebrated with several people. There was a time when my brother and I were such partners in crime that we would bring our gifts home together , remove the personalised messages and say ‘oh, we just got it for each other’. Once a girl gave him a 3 foot tall soft toy and that disgusting thing sat in our bedroom for so long that I still see it in my horror dreams.  I am sure my parents knew exactly what was happening but they played along.

Our first Valentine’s after marriage was a wreck. We were 24, both of us had joined our family business but we were unsure about what exactly to do. After a long drunk dinner on Valentine’s eve, we woke up at 9 am and stumbled into office sometime at 11. My father-in-law gave us a talk that day. We had sure inherited the business but we had no reason to be callous about it. It was time to man-up and take responsibilities. And all this he said to his son for both of us and not directly to me (which is such a relief when you are newly married), but it hurt in the correct way. Now six years later, many times he has to tell us to relax and take it easy, but on some days it feels as if the office has become our Valentine.

I also remember the February of 2008, 10 years back, when I was madly in love with a guy who had promised to take me to the gully wali chai-ki-tapri for a date. It was convenience. He could smoke there and wouldn’t have to fuss over the details. I lit his cigarette for him, may be smoked one myself too. It was the cool thing to do you see, but being young and stupid can make you do the most foolish things and fall in love with the best rogues in town.

Now at 31 all I can see is the commercial mushy side of Valentines day. Just like me, the Shiv Sena seems to be calmer now, they used to create havoc every Valentine’s day when we were in college.

I am not sure what the 20 year olds do on Valentine’s Day now, but for me when you are facing real world problems like your maid falling sick and asking for a 2 month leave, I want to dance around her and woo her so that she comes back sooner and my life returns back to normal. Or when the child is preparing for the annual day at school and keeps singing ‘nanha munha rahi hoon’ all day long, you start humming it even in the bathroom and cannot for the love of god remember any other romantic song to sing to your husband.

The silver lining is that after 6-7 years of marriage the cynicism level of husband and wife has matched and he expects as much (or just as little) from Valentine’s Day as I do.

So cheers to that and a happy Valentine’s day to all of you!

Rutvika

Carrot chocolate chip cake with lemon cream cheese frosting

Carrot chocolate chip cake with lemon cream cheese frosting

This delectable wintery cake is packed with a lot of cinnamon and ginger giving the carrots a festive feel. The brown sugar and chocolate chips give it a beautiful crumb.

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What you will need:

  • 350 gm carrots, grated
  • 150 gm chocolate chips
  • 200 gm flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
  • 3 eggs
  • 150 ml vegetable oil
  • 150 gm brown sugar
  • 60 gm curd hung to drain excess water

For frosting :

  • 125 gm cream cheese, cold
  • 50 gm unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 300 gm icing sugar, sifted

What to do:

  1. In a bowl sift together flour + baking powder + cinnamon.
  2. In another large bowl, whisk brown sugar and oil together.
  3. Add the eggs one at a  time incorporating fully before adding the next one.
  4. To this mixture add the hung curd, vanilla essence and grated ginger. Mix well.
  5. Add flour mixture to it and mix it till you see no streaks of flour.
  6. Gently fold in grated carrots and chocolate chips.
  7. Line the bottom of an 8 or 9 inch pan with parchment paper and butter the sides.
  8. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 170C for 40-45 minutes.
  9. For frosting, mix all the ingredients together til it forms a smooth paste. Refrigerate it for 2 hours before using.
  10. Once the cake cools down completely, frost it with the cream cheese frosting and decorate with chopped pistachios or rose petals.

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Notes:

  1. Instead of chocolate chips you can use chopped and toasted walnuts or pecans or even cashews.
  2.  Carrot cakes are usually moist and denser because of the carrots. But to check if it is baked, insert a skewer and check if any batter sticks to it. If yes, bake a little more.
  3. Especially for this cake I felt that you should not skip the frosting. It gives a very delicate balanced flavour to the carrot cake.

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Cheers!

Rutvika

This baby girl, my sous-chef!

Baking with Sara

When my four year old niece Sara came to Mumbai to spend her vacation with us for a month, I was unprepared for the way she would make me fall in love with her. My three year old boy already takes up all of my free time and I was sure that I don’t have room in my mind and my heart for another child, even as an aunt. Work is hectic, we had foreign visitors to entertain, but every evening for the last one week I felt like I should leave work and go back to the kids. Take Arjun and Sara for a ride and get lost in their little world.

For the first day or two after they came, I actively resisted getting drawn in to her magical little being. I felt that I anyway won’t understand her US accent, she doesn’t really know me and would prefer being with her parents and grandparents since she is attached to them much more than me. She speaks only in English and Arjun understands mostly Marathi, I won’t even be able to do anything with them together.

But I was so wrong.

Ever since I remember, I have always wanted two kids, and at-least one daughter. But in a marriage there are two people and eventually the husband and I decided that one child was enough. We should concentrate on Arjun so that we can also focus on the increasing demands of our expanding business. So you see I have a daughter shaped void in my life. I did not know the extent of it till Sara came and snugly fit into it. With her little skirts, and her hair which I love to braid, the quiet understanding way in which she holds my hand when we are in the market, the way in which she sits on my lap and twirls my curls and asks me to paint her toenails and becomes my sous-chef when we are baking cookies, all these little things make up for the lack of a daughter who I always wanted. I love my sonny boy, you know how much I do, but its just different with girls and boys. Your nieces and nephews will always make a special place for themselves in you life.

I have countless memories of me and my younger cousin sitting with my mami, my maternal aunt, while she taught us craftwork, origami, let us play in the mud in the garden for hours and read to us from the Big book of Fairytales every single night before going to bed. She would come home every evening, tired from work, do the house chores and sit with us to satisfy our never ending demands and resolve our squabbles. Last whole week when I sat down with Arjun and Sara sticking pictures in a scrap book or taking them to a restaurant to eat ice-cream, I imagined that I had turned into her. She is miles away, but I felt as if she was standing besides me in the same room and feeling proud of how I had turned out to be. My cousin remembers a different version of our time spent together, a version where the adults in the room were fighting with each other, but my brain has skilfully learnt to mask that story.

When Arjun and Sara grow up, I want them to remember these good times. Remember that they are so loved and that we are always available for them with a hug and unconditional love, no matter where they are. The world is changing like it always does, times are getting stressful, but these kids prevent me from getting drowned in a sea of my cynical worries. And these two little people should also develop a strong connection with each other, to support one another even long after we are gone. Living in two different continents, their backgrounds, cultures will be different. But what hopefully ties them to each other will be the memories. Of the family gathered together, laughing and joking over tea, while they are busy making towers of colourful Lego and learning from each other.

As for Sara and me, we will be best buddies, baking up a storm. Wanna come have a cookie?

A very smitten Aunt,

Rutvika

Finding my own meditation space.

 

A space where I can meditate.

There is a rain-tree in front of me outside the window where I sit and write in my mom’s house. It must be atleast 50 years old, towering six floors. It is my metaphor for life. Sometimes in full bloom, sometimes shedding leaves, the ups and downs resonate with my life too.

I have spent all my childhood study time here at this table, often daydreaming the hours away while looking at that tree, that mamma squirrel scurrying through its branches in search of food, the flaming yellow golden oriole perching itself close to some yellow leaves, the constant hoom-hoom of a Bharadwaj and the crimson forehead of the coppersmith barbet peeping through the green foliage of the leaves. There is so much activity going on there, but its still very peaceful. Very calm. When a sparrow comes and lands on the branch, the leaves dance, the branch sways a little and in just few seconds it regains its composure and stands very still, ready for the next bird to land on it. The squirrel sometimes tiptoes to the end of the branch and I worry that it will slip and fall down, but in the last 15 years, I have never seen that happen. I am sure it never happens, even when I am not looking, not worrying and waiting for her to go back to the stronger branches close to the main trunk.

My friend used to live in that building opposite ours, just behind the tree. Sometimes she would come to the balcony and we would wave at each other. It is quite far away, you can barely communicate with hand gestures, but I could see her smile. I would smile back, suddenly conscious now that she is looking at me. But that feeling of someone out there is looking out for you used to perk up my mood. She is married now and stays somewhere else, but I can still see her mom, doing her own things, oblivious to me watching her in a trance.

The home that I went to after I got married was on the second floor of an old building. Shaded by the branches of tall trees, it used to be very quiet. Then we shifted to another apartment, on the seventh floor. Now we are above all these trees and how we crave for their company!

Sometimes I still come here to my mom’s house just to sit in front of the window. In front of my tree. When work, the child, different opinions in my head make to much noise, I come here and sit. Meditate. Not that type of meditation where you have to forcefully focus on the inhale-exhale, but a more subtle one where you just have to sit and let each thought come, process it and file it away. Eventually the thoughts cease, there is nothing more that can be processed and then you become one. With the silhouette of the pigeon cleaning its feathers, with those powderpuff pink flowers you hadn’t seen earlier, the gracefully arching branches and those tender new leaves, their colour so different from the other leaves.

Every year around December- January, the tree sheds all its leaves. With every breeze, there is a rainfall of leaves. The bare tree makes my soul feel naked. As if a blanket was removed. The sun shines too brightly, the birds fly away, the sticks of the branches feel poky. But then tender new leaves sprout and within a week the tree is loaded. There is slight nip in the otherwise hot Mumbai air, the leaves are fresh, birds start to chirp and life feels full circle.

At times, I worry about the death of that tree. Someday someone will decide to reconstruct the building and chop down trees in the compound for more FSI, or my parents will shift to some other place and I will feel rootless. That space, my zen, my piece of mind are in some way all interconnected. One gets chopped down and I will come crashing down. I was telling this to my business mentor the other day, and he nudged me to work towards creating that space in my head. Imagining things so that my roots are firmly planted in my head. So that the comings and goings of the world wont affect me beyond a certain extent. I find it hard to do. It is easier to worship and have faith in a clay statue of a God rather than worshipping an abstract concept.

But for now I am surrounded by trees and plants and the people I love and need. We are branching out, nesting and growing. Spring cleaning, shedding off unwanted leaves and giving scope for new ideas to take root. And this is all that matters.

Cheers!

Rutvika

No-bake Eggless Peanut butter Tart

There are countless number of times when people who I have known for a long time come and ask me if I have quit being a CA and turned into a baker. And as much as I like baking, being a CA and running our company is what pays the bills. Baking is a hobby, something that I love to spend my weekends doing. Trying to find out different flavour combinations, baking varied types of cakes, breads, mastering the art of making the elusive macarons and their feet – this is all very relaxing.

So here is one such no-bake eggless peanut butter tart. Very easy to make, looks festive and is rather nutritious. It just needs to set in the refrigerator for an hour, so it can even be made last minute as there is no baking involved. Perfect for making when little hands want to help you in the kitchen.

This recipe has been adapted from Epicurious.

No-bake Eggless Peanut Butter Tart

tart coming out from pan

What you will need:

  • 450 gram dry roasted unsalted peanuts, skin removed
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoon creamy peanut butter
  • 1 and 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 500 gram chopped chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon neutral vegetable oil

Making of peanut butter tart

What to do :

  1. Firstly, dry roast the peanuts either in a big kadhai or in a microwave. Remove the skin and let the peanuts cool down.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the chopped chocolate with the oil over double boiler or in a microwave till it is fully melted without any clumps. let it cool slightly , about 10 minutes.
  3. Take one 10 inch or two 5 inch fluted pans with removable bottom and spray the inside lightly with a non-stick spray or butter it. Cover the bottom ring fully with a plastic saran wrap. Put it inside the fluted pan.
  4. Pour about half of the slightly cooled melted chocolate into the pan and let it coat evenly. Let it set at room temperature.
  5. In a mixer, pulse the roasted peanuts to a grainy powder.
  6. To this add powdered sugar + peanut butter and salt. Pulse till it all comes together to form a dough.
  7. Take it out on a surface and blend it with your hands to make a smooth dough.
  8. Transfer it onto a wax paper and roll it in a disk, slightly smaller than the pan.
  9. Transfer the peanut butter disk onto the fluted pan over the chocolate disk. Peel off the parchment paper.
  10. Pour remaining chocolate over the peanut butter disk and let it set in the refrigerator for an hour to set.
  11. Before service, remove sides of the tart pan and lift off the bottom ring. Slide it onto a serving plate from the plastic wrapped ring.
  12. Decorate with fruits before serving and keep it in the fridge while storing or the chocolate will start melting.

Chocolate top of tart

Notes :

  • This is a perfect make ahead dessert and can also be made into smaller cup sized tart pans.
  • I use cocoa craft pure chocolate, but it also works very well with compound like Morde.

Slice of tart

Cheers!

RC