The resilience of everyday things

When I sit in the balcony of our house, I see one older woman in the building diagonally opposite to us. She is going on about her daily work , her details visible only when she comes near the window. Folding plastic bags neatly into a small rectangle and keeping it under the bed so it flattens out, watering the single but splendidly fresh plant in the window, sorting through sprouted pulses looking for a stone or an un-sprouted grain, folding and storing newspapers in the corner of the window, storing some more documents in plastic bags , neatly compressed to save space in a Mumbai apartment. Her rhythmic movements and her quiet, self assured way is a great accompaniment to my morning cup of chai. And the pair of sparrows who seem to have adopted me as their guardian. They are okay with me sitting in the balcony while they go on picking seeds from the bird feeder, removing the outer cover and chewing on the seed. My two companions before the world around me gets active and starts buzzing around.

Since the coronavirus threat started in our country, we asked Akshay’s 84 year old grandmother Tara ajji, to come and live with us till this all clears away. She wakes up much before anyone else does and sleeps much later. As you grow older, you tend to need very little sleep she tells us when we are amazed at finding her awake all the time. She is always busy around the house. Making tea, making chapatis, cleaning and sorting the vegetables, cleaning bottles and jars with such intense care , they must be feeling rather loved. In our super fast life of consumption, we don’t care about these things that much anymore. We are a use and throw culture, lack of time, easy availability of fancier items. Use cups till the bottom corners get so stained that we replace them. Use hand towels for a while and once they get worn out , throw them away or convert them to rags. But not for the women of Tara ajji’s generation. She spends several minutes per cup ensuring each and every inaccessible ring is cleaned till it is spotless.

I remember my paternal grandmother go through similar activities when I used to go stay at her house. She would put on the radio _vividbharati_ at 6 am and start her chores. Boiling the milk, making tea, making breakfast, rolling the chapatis, combing her long hair and tightly fixing it into a bun.

These daily rituals, routine mundane activities which need to be done every single day are the real crux of life. They lend a certainty and order inside the home, inside our head so that the big wide world broadcasted into our homes via news channels and social media can stay out and not disturb our peace.

I also remember my uncle, my mama, getting the bags of milk every morning and washing them with a spray of detergent water and then washing it again under running water before it went into the fridge. We also do it now in the covid19 times, but we used to be more careless earlier under the guise of building immunity.

What would we do without these rituals that separate the day into morning noon and night?

When my son was a baby, we used to have an elaborate night time schedule of winding down. Taking a shower, drinking a cup of milk, reading a quiet story, asking each other questions about the day and then he would finally snuggle into me and go to sleep.

We still do more or less the same things at night, but I have to reluctantly pull him from the world of fantasies in his head and then he sleeps in his own bed while continuing to ask questions about Star Wars or Jurassic Park, which I know nothing about. He seems to be closer to his dad than me now, because dad is the cooler one, a Jedi with a lightsaber.

I am thankful for these little things I get to witness especially when the pace of life has slowed down and we are all looking inwards.

Is it too mundane? Too ordinary?

It’s essential. No matter what, the sun also rises and sets everyday, the plants continue to grow and birds continue to forage for food.

And human? We continue to do all these things and more. Day in and day out.

What would be life without it?

Xoxo,

Rutvika

Lockdown Diaries

Wear a mask, carry on.

When the coronavirus lockdown started in March-end in our country, I did not think that it would continue till my birthday, four months away. It felt like its a one or two month thing and soon our lives as we know it will be back. But now if anyone asks me , I take a far right position (pun unintended) and say I feel this is going to last till March 2021 and we will begin new year from April 2021 in a new way. This whole year is a washout.

We always used to think even as young adults, ‘hope for the best but prepare for the worst’. My mind has already gone into that zone where I have steeled myself for an entire year of lockdown. Is it being pessimistic or cynical? I think not. Preparing for such a scenario has some benefits.

Consider this lockdown as a forest fire. As a cleansing. For new ideas to take hold, the brain needs some free space. If the jungle in your head is already full grown, where will new little plants get the sunlight from?

The main thing to do while this lasts is to A) Stay alive and hopefully free from the virus B) Don’t go bankrupt/ hold on to your job.

Last week my mother had high fever and high pulse. The times are such that all of us went into a frenzy, afraid that this covid is at our doorstep now. Her oxygen was below 95. Never in my life before have I known how much oxygen our blood has in normal times and what happens to it when we are sick. But now we are all experts. With this additional information coming from the pulse oxymeter I started knitting thick webs of apocalyptic situations in my head. The husband is much calmer in such situations, we arranged to see a doctor, got a Covid test for my mum and then I sat biting my nails for one whole day till the results came out. Negative. That was the coolest negative I have seen in my life.

But while this whole situation was unfolding over 3-4 days, I realised how sweet it is to stay locked in at home. The possibility of getting the virus and falling into the clutches of an already overburdened medical system or be at the mercy of government covid centres was far worse than the pain of having to put life on hold and stay at home.

Businesses all over the country and the the world are down, most public expenditure will have to be spent on medical exigencies and to help the lowest economic class survive the pandemic. These kind of things happen once in a lifetime for everyone. When I was living in Paris with my host Danielle, she would often tell tales of how it was growing up in France right after World War II, extreme poverty, lack of food, loss of beloved family and friends. It was grim. But they survived. We are hard wired to survive and we will. So for our generation, it’s the pandemic. If you consider that all of us have to survive a couple of bad deals in a lifetime, this one’s not so bad. An average middle class person in India has more or less a decent amount of savings to tide through such situations. We have to stay low, conserve capital and postpone any growth plans for the next year.

In the last 4 months, I have read more books that I have been able to read in the last 2 years. I am not much of a movie/series person, I imagine vividly and if I see a murder mystery then in my dreams I keep seeing someone trying to kill me or me trying to kill someone. So I only restrict to rom-coms. The good part of romantic movies is that even in my dreams, the husband is doing sweet things to me and I wake up feeling more lovey-dovey towards him for no amount of work from his side. Win-win situation. But there’s a limit to how many many movies of one genre you can really see, so I just let it go. Books are my thing. Making a mandala, baking with my kiddo, writing at least 700 words each day is my thing. This lockdown has also introduced me to the wonderful world of strength training and for the first time in 10 years, my back, neck are not aching from constant use of laptop. So all in all you see, it’s not the situation but only how we look at it that matters.

So hang in there my friends, look at the brighter side and keep your eyes on the prize.

I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

XoXo,

Rutvika

Horlicks Cookie Cake

Now this recipe here is the one I have truly created, if there is such a thing. This woman baked some soft chewy cookies, shared the recipe with me, I baked those cookies with whole wheat flour and they turned out amazing. Next I know I am tinkering with the proportions and adding random stuff to the batter to give it the extra maltiness and crunch.

After a couple of tries comes out this Horlics cookie batter which can be baked into a thin sheet cake or baked in a pie pan or soft baked into cookies. I prefer the thin sheet cake version.

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Horlicks Cookie Cake

What you will need :

  • 1 cup butter, melted (I use Amul salted butter)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 and 1/2 cup All purpose flour (Maida)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup Horlics powder
  • 2 tsp Vanilla essence
  • 150 grams of chopped chocolate (see notes)

What to do :

  1. Take melted butter in a bowl and add the brown sugar and granulated sugar. Whisk well till it is all combined together.
  2. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking after each addition.
  3. Add the Horlics and vanilla essence and combine.
  4. In another bowl sift together maida and baking soda.
  5. Add this to the butter and eggs mixture in batches and fold it in with a rubber spatula.
  6. Add chopped chocolate and combine well.
  7. Pre-heat oven to 170 C. Butter and line the bottoms with parchment paper of two pie pans or a brownie tray or two 9 inch cake round cake pans.
  8. Bake the batter for 15-20 mins till it is crispier on the outside and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  9. Let it cool in the tray for 10 mins before removing and then let it cool on a wire stand for 10 minutes before cutting.
  10. Top it up with some whipped cream before serving.

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Notes :

  1. You can use either baking chocolate chips or chocolate chunks. I love the way Dairymilk melts into the batter while baking making it gooey and crisp at the same time.
  2. If you are using unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt to bring out the flavours.
  3. You can very well use this batter to make cookies. Freeze it for 20 mins and then make balls of 2 tablespoon batter and bake them on a tray as cookies.

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Cheers,

Rutvika

Fruit and Nut chocolate Muffins

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The sweeter side-effect of Diwali is all the leftover mithai and chocolates. This time we had a box full of Dairy milk chocolates which we converted into these muffins. A Sunday baking with my son is the good way to relax, ableit you have to ignore all the mess those little hands make.
The Diary milk can easily be replaced with similar quantity chocolate chips or any other chopped chocolate . The texture of these muffins is slightly on the dry side which many people seem to prefer over the heavy moist cupcakes. I have dressed them up with plain chocolate melted over a double boiler, cooled and then spooned over the cupcakes.
 Dairy Milk Fruit and Nut muffins. 
Ingredients :
  • 300 gm all purpose flour (maida)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 125 gram salted butter, softened, I use Amul
  • 100 gm castor sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup heavy cream (I use Tropolite)
  • 125-150 gram Dairymilk fruit and nut, chopped into small pieces.
  • 180 gm chocolate melted for frosting

What to do :

  1. In a small bowl, mix all purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix it and sift it together.
  2. In another bowl, take the softened butter and castor sugar. Whisk it with an electric mixer for 3-4 minutes, till it becomes ribbonlike soft and combined.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time while mixing together.
  4. Then with a spatula fold in the dry ingredient mixture alongwith the heavy cream, alternately. Always start and end with the dry ingredients.
  5. Fold in the chopped chocolate.
  6. Pre-heat oven to 180C.
  7. Line the cupcake pan with cupcakes liners. Spoon the mixture into the liner, about 2/3rd cup full.
  8. Bake the cupcakes for 15-20 mins, till they are springy and soft to touch.
  9. Take the pan out of the oven and let it cool down in the pan for 15-20 mins and then invert it on a wire rack to let it cool down further.
  10. Melt the chocolate over double boiler for frosting the cupcakes, and frost it once the cupcakes completely cool down.

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Notes :

  1. I put the chopped chocolate in the fridge for 15 mins before putting them in the cupcake batter. This ensure that the chocolate doesn’t sink top the bottom while baking.
  2. The batter is quite thick as the ratio of flour to wet ingredients is high. Spoon it into the cupcake liners for baking.

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Velvety Cocoa Cake with Ganache

When in doubt always bake a chocolate cake. I don’t know who said this, but it is one of the most useful pieces of advice I have heard.

This velvety cocoa cake was baked for my dad’s 61st birthday. A soft and delicate cake it comes alive with each bite of ganache melting in your mouth. Its a simple recipe inspired from Martha Stewart.

Velvety cocoa cake

Velvety cocoa cake slice

Velvety Cocoa Cake with Ganache

What you will need:

  • 2 and 1/2 cup all purpose flour (maida)
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 170 gram butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 and 1/2 cup buttermilk

What to do:

  1. In a bowl, mix together flour + cocoa powder + baking soda. Then sift it with a sieve and keep aside.
  2. In another bigger bowl, whisk the butter with both the sugars until it is smooth and creamy. I generally use an electric mixer, but a whisk will also work.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, while whisking so as to make it a smooth batter.
  4. Add the vanilla extract and mix.
  5. Now to this butter mixture, add the flour mixture and buttermilk alternately. Fold it in with a spatula. Always start and end with the dry ingredients.
  6. Prepare two 9 inch round baking pans. Line the bottom with parchment paper and generously butter the sides.
  7. Pre-heat the oven to 160 C and bake the cakes for 25-30 minutes, till a skewer inserted in the centre of the pan comes out clean.
  8. Once the cakes are baked, run a butter knife through the sides of the cake to release it from the pan.
  9. Turn it over to a wire mesh and let it cool completely before frosting with ganache.
  10. For ganache recipe , see here.

TIPS:

  • To make a tiered cake, I bake this recipe in three 9 inch pans, so as to do 3 layers of ganache filling. But two layers also work fine.
  • After adding flour, always gently fold in with a spatula, refrain from using a whisk. It gives softer feel to the cake.

Cocoa Cake with pineapple

Cheers!

Rutvika