Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

thanksgiving-2015

Thanksgiving in San Francisco. 2015.

Last Thanksgiving was a first of many things for me. The first time I ate turkey, celebrated Thanksgiving, Arjun – my little baby boy’s first US trip, the first time Arjun and I took a 24 hour flight just by ourselves, meeting my baby brother (he’s 25, but for me he is still a baby!) since he went to the US to study, winning money at a poker game, a miraculous reflex catching Arjun mid-air when he fell off a high table, another night when he rolled under the bed and my heart skipping a beat when we couldn’t see him for a second, eating ice cream on a cold windy Californian day, drinking beer in a park, listening to Thanksgiving speeches where my young brothers-in-law morbidly thanked the turkey for dying so we could feast on him, 80 year old grandmother feeling thankful about being able to travel to US from India, the first time Arjun and Sara- my baby niece played and fought with each other, and the first time my heart felt thankful for the days of our lives that are filled with family and food.

There’s a lot to be thankful about. I agree that the world is full of mishaps, there are too many wrong-doings and doers which can be agitating, difficulties big and small interlacing the fabric of life. But the fact that we are here, you and I, physically healthy and mentally fit, thats enough reason to be thankful about.

We are teaching Arjun to say thank you when someone does something nice for him. He has taken it very seriously. Each time, he extends his hand, tilts his head to one side, smiles and says Thank you. Thank you grandma for the delicious breakfast, thank you dad for wrapping me in two towels after the bath so I don’t feel cold, thank you grandpa for letting me pluck flowers from the plant (and his grandpa thanks him for not plucking the buds yet to bloom), thank you momma for reading that Peppa Pig book for the 5th time in the last 2 hours. He even goes on to say thank you to the flowers for blooming, Lata Mangeshkar for singing his favourite songs and for his stuffed toy Bobo for pooping in the toilet! Kids, I tell you, they can warm even the coldest hearts. And patiently take soft toys and plastic fishes to the toilet so they can pee and poop.

I am going to see my cousin after a long time today, and spend hours chatting with her. Followed by 2 weddings in two days and a getting some shopping done for a big fat family wedding next weekend. Hope you all have a great weekend too, whether or not you are celebrating Thanksgiving. I am sending some gratitude your way for reading these posts and for dropping in some kind words. And to the cosmos for showing me the light when it gets dark.

Say a thank you to someone for me, will you?

Chocolate Mousse Tart and a Diwali gone by

Keeping with the tradition

Diwali has come and gone. It was a test of sorts for me. For the first time in 28 years, my beliefs about tradition and rituals were put to test. Not that I am overtly religious or particularly detached, but I guess it’s somewhere in between. I have been through phases of wanting to do all things festive or sometimes pretending normal life when everyone around was celebrating some sort of festival or the other. But till date, the onus of “celebration” was never on me.

But this time it was. With mom-in-law in the USA, and me at 28 weeks pregnant, I did not have much hope from myself for Diwali. I assumed it would be perfunctory Diwali, with all traditions and get-togethers put on hold till my mom-in-law comes back. But somewhere a week before Diwali, my brain kicked into action mode. The house was cleaned, lights and a lantern were put up, a few diyas were painted, Diwali faraal (snacks) were made, ALL the traditions were followed to the T, numerous get-togethers were done and a perfectly festive Diwali was had. Of course, with the husband and father-in-law participating with equal fervour.

I have always believed that the woman of the house lays down most rules in-house and the atmosphere largely depends on her mood and involvement. Till I got married, my mom was the one setting the tempo during all festivals and she never failed in her part. Weeks before Diwali, she would buy us new clothes, get the house cleaned, make snacks and be prepared for the festivities to begin. And each year, on the first day of abhyangasnaan, we would all wake up very early, mom would massage us with oil, we would take a shower with ubtan, wear new crisp clothes and get ready to light firecrackers while dad would do a small pooja and all of us would then feast on deep-fried, sugary snacks. And every one of the Diwali days, there would be meeting friends and relatives and our house would be filled with chatter and laughter throughout. Mom was the anchor and we moored around her.

In my late teenage years I feigned indifference. Showed how westernised and busy I had become. How I had no time for these little rituals and it was all only for parents and little kids. In short, how I was above it all. But come the actual days of Diwali and I would be oh-so-glad that mom had not taken me seriously and we were still celebrating with gusto.

Then once I got married, the beacon to set the mood was on my mom-in-law. She did everything that was required without ever being the strict mother-in-law and asking me to do this and that.  And three years passed before I realised it is so much work to get all things arranged to enable celebration. Hundreds of minute details had to be looked into which I had always taken for granted. This was our fourth Diwali after marriage and I had no clue about a lot of things. I had no idea how Laxmi-poojan was done, no idea which silverware was required on which day and where it was kept, heck I had no idea who all had to be traditionally given gifts for Diwali. I was nervous.

But we managed. Unknowingly my brain had taken it up as a challenge to organise everything as she would have. Out of 4 Diwali days, we had family functions, small or big, on ALL the four days. I got gifts for all of the husband’s cousins as bhau-beej, asked my mom-in-law and got everything ready for the laxmi-pooja, lit oil-lamps or diyas each evening and fed everyone with delicious home cooked food every time. Of course we had some goof-ups. I was unaware that we had run out of haldi-kumkum in the house and at the last-minute I had to make everyone wait and get it from the neighbours. And all of this when the baby in my womb was incessantly kicking, perhaps enjoying the hustle or getting overtly stimulated by increased movement of its home!

Next year in Diwali, the baby would be here. I may not be able to be this involved along with the demands of an infant. But this year I realised that I deeply cherish these values and traditions which make us, us. And hence, I know that I would make the effort to be the festive organised mom which my mom and mom-in-law have been. For ourselves and for the kid.

Cheers 🙂

Rutvika Charegaonkar

P.S : Our approach and topics are different, but read this piece on haathitime for a different take on the topic.

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And a couple of weeks back, our pastry chef from Le Cordon Bleu, Olivier Mahut was here in India and we had an awesome alumni get-together and two chef demonstrations. I had invited a couple of baker friends and the entire audience had a great time with the very sweet chef. He demonstrated ‘Tarte A La Mousse Au Chocolat’ or Chocolate Mousse Tart, which I recreated at home and presenting here for you. The quick mousse recipe especially is a delight and comes together in precisely 5 minutes.

Cocoa dacquoise

Chocolate Mousse Tart

What you will need :

Dacquoise

  • 120 gm ground almonds
  • 55gm powdered sugar
  • 20 gm unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 150 gm egg whites
  • 125 gm caster sugar

Chocolate Crunch

Dark Chocolate Quick Mousse

  • 150 gm dark chocolate
  • 300 ml whipping cream

Banana and Apple Filling

  • 50 gm cut bananas/ 50 gm cut apples
  • 50 gm caster sugar
  • 50 gm butter

Dasiy Dacquoise

What to do :

  1. Preheat oven to 180C. Place two 20cm * 2cm high ring mould on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
  2. To make the dacquoise, combine all the dry ingredients – ground almonds, powdered sugar and cocoa powder in a bowl.
  3. In another clean bowl, whisk the egg-whites to soft peaks with a whisk or an electric beater. Then gradually add the sugar while whisking the egg whites to stiff peaks.
  4. Using a slotted spoon or a skimmer, gently fold the dry ingredients into the egg white mixture. Be careful to not let the mixture deflate.
  5. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a 20 mm tip and pipe a daisy flower shape into the ungreased ring mold. Lightly sprinkle with powdered sugar.
  6. Bake the dacquoise in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and refrigerate. Use a small knife to remove ring mold from the dacquoise. It will get released, then carefully separate the ring mold.
  7. To make the chocolate crunch, melt the butter and chocolate over a double boiler or in a microwave. Whisk in intervals so that there are no lumps. Then add the praline and mix it to a smooth mixture with a spatula.
  8. To make the chocolate mousse, melt the dark chocolate over double boiler or in a microwave. Meanwhile, whisk the cold whipping cream to soft peaks.
  9. Once the chocolate is melted, whisk in the cold whipping cream. Over a bowl of cold ice water, further whisk the chocolate and whipped cream mixture till it considerably cools down and turns to a light mousse. Refrigerate for 10 minutes before using.
  10. To make the filling, take the cut bananas or apples and the butter and sugar in a saucepan and let it simmer till the fruits soften and the mixture thickens. Let it cool completely before using.
  11. For the assembly, take the dacquoise on a plate or a cardboard platter. Spread the praline chocolate crunch over the dacquoise in the centre. Spread it with a layer of the fruit filling. take the chocolate mousse in pastry bag with 12 mm tip and pipe drops of mousse on the dacquoise along the edges.
  12. Serve chilled.

Mousse au chocolate

Notes :

  • I always use Amul butter in all baking which is slightly salted. If you are using unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt to the fruit filling.
  • For whipping cream, I used Amul dairy based whipping cream. But frankly, it does not hold up shape very well in the hot and humid climate of Mumbai as well as the non-dairy based Tropolite does.

Chocolate mousse

“A Bollywood Affair” and Home-made Kaju katli

Book Review : A Bollywood Affair

As a teenager, I was a die hard fan of Mills and Boon. I would rent out one every couple of days from the local library and immerse myself in those books and almost always imagine myself to be the heroine. And however independent I was in real life, I loved the damsel-in-distress part in those novels. Perhaps it was something about the description of the hero, that you wanted him to come and rescue you, even if you didn’t need it. Ah yes and the the racy cover photographs! I would stare at them every few pages later and it would lead me to imagine things on my own.

Then abruptly that era of romance novels stopped, or came to a screeching halt. As if I had gathered all the know-how to fall in love. And while becoming an accountant, or working as a banker, I assumed I had to read more serious books and poor little Mills and Boon genre went through the window, taking with it all warm and soft feelings which that kind of books give you.

And then a few days back I got an Advanced copy of an Indian romance novel set in Michigan, ‘A Bollywood Affair’. It tugged at my heart. The characters Mili and Samir and Virat, they are endearing and brash at the same time. It is essentially the story of Mili who is married off to Virat at the age of 4 in a small village in Rajasthan and then for the next 20 years, she doesn’t meet him or hear from him. Yet in her heart she believes that she is married and acts accordingly. And its the story of Samir, Virat’s younger brother, who is in Michigan, USA to secure a divorce for his brother, for a marriage which they don’t consider to be existing ever.

And then Mili and Samir fall in love, bollywood style!

ABOLLYWOODAFFAIR_Cover

Its a beautifully crafted book, the scenes are so vividly explained that I could almost smell the samosas being fried at Mili’s best friend’s wedding. Or for days later I could imagine a yellow cycle which Mili has, standing in our own driveway. The book grows on you. On one side I wanted to hastily finish reading the book so that I come to know of the whole story, but at the same time, I wanted it to linger, to last, for some time more so that I can be in their beautiful “fallin-in-love” world just a little longer. Well, I couldn’t put the book down ad stayed up all night and finished it.

The most empathetic part of the book for me was Mili. She is shown to be very traditional yet pragmatic, she yearns for her husband to come claim her and yet goes to US for higher education. She has a belief system in place and that helps her set things right in the lives of people she cares for. And quotes of her grandmother throughout the book would make me go and squeeze and hug my grandma.

The only part in the book that did not go down well with me was the number of times Mili fainted. Eat something, girl! But Samir was always around to catch her midway through the fall, and the fluttering sparks which flew between them still made it enjoyable.

The book is set for release on Tuesday, 28 October. How did I get an advance copy? Yes, my aunt-in-law has written the book and everytime I see the pre-release activity on Facebook, I get a star-struck moment. I can see what a huge deal it is to write a full book, get a publisher, go through numerous rounds of edits and then finally release it. One important thing for me in a book is to know that there are no unforgotten characters. Each one is led to a logical conclusion.And none of the characters are left hanging here. When I asked the author Sonali Dev, how long it took her to string this one together , her words were “This book took about a year. It was one of those books that just flew out of me”. 🙂

Like I grew up on Mills and Boon I was very curious to know what shaped her romantic view of the world. But Sonali Dev says ” I didn’t actually read a lot of romance novels growing up. One odd Mills and Boon in college and a few Danielle Steele’s. When I was a young mother in my early thirties, I got sick and my husband took the kids to the library. Since I was out of books and I had time to read, thanks to being sick, I asked my husband to pick up a book for me. He, of course, walked into the library and grabbed the first thing off the display shelf. It was Catherine Coulter’s Rosehaven. A ‘full-on’ Medieval Historical Romance. I read the back, gave him my angriest wife glare and said, ‘You’ve been married to me for 10 years and this is what you think I read?’ But then I made the mistake of starting to read it and I finished it in one night. Could not put it down. It was absolutely delicious, I was hooked. I inhaled all of Catherine Coulter’s books after that and then went on to discover Lisa Kleypas, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Nalini Singh and on and on. ”

If that’s what pulled this fabulous author into romance writing, the next book I want to read is definitely Rosehaven.
A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev (See it here on Goodreads) releases on 28 October, and I already have a list of people I want to gift it to. If you love romance, this one is not to be missed. And if you don’t, this one will convert you.
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And while Diwali is in full swing here, I had decided to make one new Diwali faraal item which I have never made before. This time its home-made kaju-katli, something like a diamond shaped cashew maripan.
I have loved kaju katli forever but I never knew it can be so easy to make. It has just three ingredients. Cashews, sugar and water. Thats it. And it comes together in 20 minutes!
Home-made kaju katli
 Kaju katli
What you will need :
  • 1 cup good quality cashews
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water

Kaju katli collage

What to do :

  1. Pulse the cashews in a mixer to make a powder, but do not let it turn into a paste. Take a few cashews at a time and pulse them. If you think it is starting to release oil, add a teaspoon of powdered sugar while grinding.
  2. Take the sugar and water in a thick bottomed vessel and let it come to a boil to make the sugar syrup. let it reach the one string consistency. (See picture)
  3. Then add all the cashew powder to the sugar mixture and mix well. Keep stirring on a low flame till the mixture starts to thicken and leaves the sides of the pan.
  4. Continue to cook on low flame till it forms almost a dough. If you pinch a ball of the mixture and roll it between your fingers it should form a smooth ball without crumbling.Once that stage is reached, in about 7-8 minutes, take it off the heat.
  5. While it is still warm (let it cool slightly), knead the dough till it becomes smooth. Then on a Silpat or a greased butter paper, roll it out with a rolling pin to the desired thickness. Cut diagonally.
 Kaju katli stacked
 Notes :
  • I doubled the recipe and cooking time increased by 3-4 minutes. Keep a check on the consistency and keep it stirring at low flame.
  • If it appears too dry, knead with a little ghee.
  • It stays well at room temperature in an air-tight box for 4-5 days and refrigerated for even 7-8 days.