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

When we all turn into clouds.

Arjun contemplating

Every time when someone old is sick, I feel this is the final time I am seeing them. Every time my grandmother calls me I hold on to her words, I feel this is the last time I am talking to her. She is healthy as a horse, takes good care of herself, gives unwanted advice to everyone she meets, insists on them following her advice and in general keeps getting in trouble because of all the questions she asks people which she is not supposed to.

But still, every time I see a call from her number, my heart beat quickens till I hear her voice.

It is strange to have this feeling in your head at all times. It is a cycle of life and death. What is born must die, and yet, it feels as if we are all fighting it every minute. For ourselves and for our loved ones.

When Arjun, my 2.5 year old boy asked me where 3 out of 4 of my grandparents are, I pointed at the sky and told him that they have become clouds now. We can’t see them, but they can see us. Now in this monsoon season, when he sees a dark cloud or a soft white cloud against a grey blue sky, he points at it and asks me who that specific cloud is. I make up some stories and he entertains them. One day last weekend he came to me, held my face in both his hands and then very sincerely told me ‘Momma, please don’t become a cloud when you get old”. I squeezed him and said okay, but actually what I wanted to tell him is that ‘Becoming a cloud after you become old is the best thing to happen, honey.’ But may be he is too little to understand that thing happening to his mom.

And kids can be strange. This idea is stuck in his head and when he sees any really old person, he asks them, ‘When do you think you will become a cloud?’ I quickly change the topic before any more questions are asked, but you can imagine me getting a small panic attack when he starts questioning in that direction.

Last month, I asked my 80 year old grandmother who had gone to meet her dying 83 old brother, “What did you say to him?”. “Nothing”, she told me. “I just stroked his hand and his forehead”. “Thats it? No last words of wisdom from you or from him?” “No. We have just been there forever, what else to say?”

Getting old and then leaving this world is perhaps the best form of dying. Of having lived a life, of knowing that your children, their children are all grown up, that they can take care of themselves without you – that is solace. And I believe in re-birth. In same soul, many lives. So all those who have left us will come back in some other form, in some other person. It helps me navigate the everyday. My husband believes that we are all carbon atoms, there is no soul and there is no re-birth. And this belief makes him stay sane. Well, different things work for different people, but I refuse to believe that my grandmother’s unrelenting, unsolicited advice will leave me and not come back. I am sure she will pass on that baton to someone else, for her sake and for mine.

This week, we will celebrate her 80th birthday. All her sisters will be there too, in the old-age home where she now stays. Me and mom were trying to convince her that we should all go on a holiday to celebrate her 8oth. But she wants to stay put and wants us all to come there. So thats where we all will be, amongst 30 other grannies and grandpas, some of whom we know and some only she knows. Arjun loves it there, so much open space and trees and flowers, he runs around the whole time.

On the other side of the family, Akshay’s grandma also lives very close to us. Arjun is very attached to her. She is 81. In good health, but ageing. Arjun sees all of this. How fortunate he is to love and be loved by three generations, but he will also miss them the most when they are all no more.

But there is no better thing than to grow old and die. May we all have the same fate.

Cheers,

RC

World Breastfeeding Week – how we made it through.

Breastfeeding momma

Of all the things that are changing as Arjun is growing up, the thing that I miss the most is breastfeeding. My little baby being nourished and nurtured at my breast. I am not kidding when I tell you that I list it as an accomplishment when I take stock of life. It was not easy, no. Breastfeeding him exclusively for 6 months and then continuing it for another 6 months before the baby self-weaned – took up all of my reserve of determination. Hours of sitting at the same place nursing the child, feeding on demand and being available 24*7 and practically not having even a few minutes to yourself; it was all worth it.

Now I am not going to give any gyaan on breastfeeding, but all you women out there, it is the best gift to give your child. And I say this from personal experience. When the baby starts feeding, some hormones get released in your body, and the calm and peace which you feel at that time is unparalleled. Of course, you have to be in that moment, with the baby, not wishing to be somewhere else, but once you clear your brain of all your to-do lists, it can be a perfect zen-time. And the baby immensely benefits from mothers milk. From the closeness, from the attachment and also the customised nourishment that he is getting. Mother’s milk has everything your baby needs, on that day, modified as per signals received by the mother’s body during the previous feeding session. If this had to be explained in one word, I would call it miraculous.

And there were so many things I could do because the baby was breastfed. Arjun and I took a 28 hour long journey to San Francisco, just the two of us when he was 9 months old. I must have fed him 20 times in those 28 hours, but I did not have to carry any bottles, any formula, no sterilisation. Every time he would make a sound, I would start nursing him and it would instantly calm him. No fuss, no crying. A lady in the plane remarked later on that she didn’t know there was a baby on board.

Of course it took an army of supporters. My husband, my mom, my mother-in-law, so many of my friends and relatives, the very supportive pro-breastfeeding paediatrician, my lactation consultant and the Breastfeeding support for Indian Mothers group on Facebook. Each one had a huge role to play, especially in the first 2 months when baby and I were still getting used to each other, and I would cry at the drop of a hat. But we all did stick through it, and its been the most wondrous journey of my life.

Its now a year and a half since Arjun stopped feeding, and how I miss those moments. The baby would be mine alone at that time and I would be his. In sync with each other.

Arjun is quite an independent child now, stays away from mom and dad even for a week when we go away for meetings. Sometimes he is so engrossed in his play doh that he wont realise its been 2 hours since he spoke to anyone. But then there are days when he wont even let me go pee after coming back from work. Every minute after and before office hours have to be spent with him. Physically and mentally. No phone, no laptop, no talking to any other person. Just him. Momma, lets paint. Mom look at how I can jump, momma help me make a ball of clay, mum lets go to the garden, momma let me hug you (for the fiftieth time in the last hour) , mom you feed me, give me water, let me sit in your lap, let me play with your ears, I will comb your hair, you brush my teeth, teach me a new song, let me sleep in your lap like a baby and so on. An endless list of demands over your time and space.

But I wont have it any other way. If he was indifferent to me, or disinterested in doing activities with me, I. Will. Die. This might be my only chance at being a mom, and I want to cling to every minute of it.

Unable to decide if we should have one more child or not, it is in these moments  that I sometimes ask this 2.5 year old ‘Should we make one more baby in momma’s stomach?’

With the profoundness of a toddler, he quickly asks me ‘Then who will I call momma? Maybe then I will have to start calling my grandma as my mom’. Heartbroken I tell him, ‘Hey! I will still be your mom. Always.’ ‘But what if the other baby takes you to his home?’, he gets puzzled. My little baby doesn’t understand the concept of expanding the family, but he definitely understands that he doesn’t want to share his mom.

Well, for now, this is my only baby. The baby I created inside me, and nurtured wholly for 6 months on the milk that I made. Customised for him.

It is true that breastfeeding can be tricky and its a matter of personal choice. And all of us are still awesome parents even if we don’t do things in this way or another, but I firmly believe that Breast is Best. So all you gorgeous feeding mammas, hang in there.

Happy Breastfeeding Week y’all!

Love,

Rutvika