Finding cues from books to keep calm and carry on

Bookstore in Berlin

On a miraculous note, I have finished reading all the four books that I started reading in the last two months. I call it a miracle because believe it or not, there are 6-7 books on my kindle which I started reading but couldn’t go on. For varied reasons. And then I would give up reading for a while, keep scourging listicles to find a book which will help me get back on track and feel disconcerted all the while because I did not have a book to go back to. Working full time and raising a child leaves very less time to read (or even to take a shower for that matter), but escaping my own life and joining someone else through the books makes it rather bearable to live through the mundane necessities of life. We are so small in this whole universe, that our joys and sorrows, difficulties and breakthroughs are all insignificant and should not be taken too seriously.

Four years back when I was in Paris, I went to Lyon to spend two days with a business associate and his family consisting of his wife and three kids. His youngest daughter Lily (who was 6) and I became very attached. She doesn’t speak a word of English and I cant speak French, but sometimes you don’t need words to feel close to each other. I hadn’t seen her since then. When we were going to Berlin for our annual international meeting, I was going to see her father. I took a little gift for Lily and wondered if she would remember me.

We were in for a rude shock when we saw Lily with her father in Berlin and he told us that his wife had committed suicide a week back. 10 year old Lily accompanied him as there was no one to take care of her at home. I knew her mother, such a warm gentle person. But she suffered from depression for several years and couldn’t take it anymore. I felt the inevitable had happened.  She fought the demons in her head for 20 years, but refused to accept medication. As it often happens in situations like these, I couldn’t bring myself to say anything comforting. We hugged each other and said that we are very sorry to hear that.

I couldn’t focus on anything for the rest of the evening or night. A book came to my rescue. While in Berlin, I wanted to read something about the city and I had Stasiland by Anna Funder. I escaped into that book, The Berlin wall and the attempts to flee, atrocities committed by the Secret police – the Stasi, incessant spying by the East German government on the citizens and so on. Suddenly the bleaker world that I was reading about made my real world seem more cheerful. And the words, how they comfort a soul when troubled. Look at this from the book “I like trains. I like their rhythm, and I like the freedom of being suspended between two places, all anxieties of purpose taken care of: for this moment I know where I am going.” Or this : “We don’t catch hold of an idea, rather the idea catches hold of us and enslaves us and whips into the arena so that we, forced to be gladiators, fight for it.” These are the words that will save the world, one person at a time.

Next day, Lily and I then went to the Stasi museum, the museum of the Secret police of East Germany. We saw a lot of stuff that was described in the book Stasiland. Two people who didn’t speak a common language trapezed through the museums and streets of Berlin, trying to understand the people and the history of the city. Then we sat at a cafe and did what Berliners do. Lunch on salad and sandwiches and some hot chocolate before the whirlwind of 4 days of constant meetings sucked me in. I don’t know what Lily thinks of her mother’s suicide. She doesn’t know what fears I have about Arjun growing up in this world. We don’t have a common language to communicate. But there on that afternoon, we sat besides each other and knew that it will all be okay. In the long run, everything is always okay.

My best friend and I always used to believe in this theory of people coming into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. You may not know it at that time, but each person who comes into contact with you leaves a part of them with you. Changes your perspective about something in some way that you didn’t know existed before. So I always believe if anyone asks you if you want to meet for a cup of coffee, say yes. And make the time for it. Something will conspire in that conversation, in that chance meeting and it will give you the energy, the zeal to carry on.

Akshay and I completed 6 years of being married yesterday. We have our good days and the bad days. There are days when I think how awesome he is and the 31 year old me can fall in love with him all over again had we met right now for the first time. And then of course there are days when everything seems to be pointless. Sleeping it out without saying any unnecessarily harsh things to each other works. And as Ann Patchett’s friend asks her in her book  ‘This is the Story of a Happy Marriage’, –

“Does your husband make you a better person?” My answer to this question has been an unfailing yes. And that is all that matters.

IMG_7136Cheers!

Rutvika

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

Barbie Cake / Doll Cake

Family Connection

Ever since I was a child, I have been lucky to have a fairly large family who met very often. My dad the eldest in his generation, has atleast a dozen cousins who are all very close to each other and loved to bunk up at our house every possible time. For six years I was the only child before my brother was born and everyone doted on me. I remember, even later, countless instances when all of us would go for picnics, movies, dinners and all. And then there were weddings, which were a big deal considering the number of members from our immediate family was never less than 150. Of course, I recollect times when only adults would be going for a hike or to watch a movie , and I used to cry so much when I had to stay back home, but overall, I remember having a great time with all of them.

Now, all of them are married, a lot of them have kids of varying ages. Me being the eldest, the onus is on me to keep all the cousins together and provide a platform for everyone to meet, which my parents have been providing for years.

Families have a way of making you feel warm inside, make you feel connected. There are always some common threads, common behavioral patterns which you can trace to at least one uncle or aunt or even a grand-uncle/aunt. It is funny, because sometimes those two people haven’t even spent considerable time with each other, but they exhibit exactly the same eating habits, the same way of folding legs when seated or a peculiar facial expression. And all of us can be traced back to one couple, three generations earlier. Each one of us is a part of them, and they are in parts of us. This knowledge makes me feel rooted. Stable.

When I was in Paris last November-December, a lot of my friends in Cordon Bleu had to go meet their extended families for Christmas and they dreaded it. I was surprised, but it is understandable. All of them live multi-cultural, multi-national lives. Spending different years of life in different parts of the world, perhaps they never got to bond with their families. On the other hand, most of us are born in Mumbai and will die in Mumbai. Sure we travel faraway on holidays, for education etc., but in the end, we come back to our roots. Most of us. And we prefer it that way.

When I got married, my husband and I were thinking of going to the US for further studies with a possibility of settling there. I was in love, just married and ready to do anything, so hadn’t thought too much about migrating to another country.But plans changed and we decided to stay in India. When I look back I realise how insanely home-sick I would have been. I need people around me, a lot of them and often. I need the familiarity your family offers and not once every Christmas, but at least once every two months. Luckily, the entire extended family on my husband’s side is equally awesome, and I am glad that my kids will grow up with the same fun and euphoria with their cousins and doting uncles, aunts and grandparents.

Touchwood.

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And I had my eyes on this Barbie Doll cake for a long time now. I researched all the various methods – with mold, without mold, with fondant, buttercream, and whipping cream, Barbie with legs, without legs and a dozen other related things. Prima-facie it looked like a lot of work, but when I got down to it, it took not more than 4 hours from start to finish.

It was my nine-year old cousin sister’s birthday and all of us had our regular bi-monthly get-together. What better day than this to make this Strawberry pink Barbie cake!

Barbie cake

My cousin loved it and all of them stayed glued near the cake, waiting for a go-ahead to cut it and devour.

I made this one without a mold and used whipping cream for the gown. This underlying cake is really easy to make and this recipe is a keeper.

Barbie Doll Cake

What you will need :

  • 1 cup softened room temperature butter
  • 2 cups caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup hot milk
  • 2 and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon Strawberry essence
  • 2 drops red food color
  • a pinch of salt is using unsalted butter

For icing :

  • 500 ml whipping cream (I use Tropolite)
  • 4 teaspoon icing sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon strawberry essence
  • 2-3 drops of red food color

What to do :

Cake

  1. Pre-heat oven to 170C.
  2. Cream butter with an electric beater or a whisk till pale and light. Add sugar and beat till creamy.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, till fully incorporated.
  4. Add the milk, strawberry essence and red food color and beat well.
  5. Combine the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder and baking soda in another bowl, sift it once and keep it ready.
  6. Then with a spatula, fold in the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, half a cup at a time, till there are no more streaks of flour.
  7. Now you can either use three 18-20 cm diameter round cake pans and then cut the excess of two cakes to make it a dome, or use three pans of decreasing diameter. I had floral aluminum pans 20, 18 and 15 cm each and I used them.
  8. Line the bottom of the pans with a parchment paper and butter the sides.
  9. Carefully fill the pans with the batter till 1/2 or 1/3 full, smoothen the top with a spatula and put it to bake at 170C for 20-25 minutes, till a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  10. Once baked, let the cakes cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then unmold them and let them cool completely on a wire rack.

Icing

  1. To make the icing, whip the cold cream till soft peaks, then add the sugar and beat till it forms hard peaks. Add the strawberry essence and red food color and whisk till fully incorporated.

Assembly

  1. Once cakes have fully cooled, cut the dome if any with a serrated knife, so that you have three layers of flat cakes.
  2. Take a cardboard cake board, spread some icing in the centre and place the biggest cake on it, so that it does not leave the board while icing. Take a few strips of parchment paper and place it securely between the cake and the cake board, so that any icing which gets dropped does not soil the cake board.
  3. Give a crumb coat to the cake, which is basically a thin layer of icing to seal the crumbs in, so that they do not interfere with the rest of the icing on the layers.
  4. Repeat the same procedure with the other two layers.
  5. Keep the cake in the fridge for 15-20 minutes for the crumb coat to settle.
  6. Meanwhile check the height of the three layers of cakes and accordingly you can put the entire legs of the barbie in the centre of the cake, or remove the legs. I had only 10 cms of cake layers, hence I removed the legs and made a hole in the top-most cake layer with an apple corer (or a simple knife) and place the top half of the barbie in the cake, covered till waist. (Remember to remove the clothes of the barbie and to tie up the hair with a saran wrap on top).
  7. Then give a generous layering of icing to the entire cake and smoothen the icing for it to resemble an upturned bowl. Add/reduce icing wherever necessary.
  8. With a piping bag and a nozzle of choice, pipe the decoration of the barbie gown on the cake. Be careful to cover it entirely.
  9. Then place the barbie on top of the cake in the already prepared slot and with the smallest star nozzle, pipe a dress on the body of the barbie.
  10. Remove the parchment paper in the bottom, give finishing touches to the barbie and you doll cake is ready!
Barbie cake crumb coat

Covering the layers in a crumb coat

Inserting the barbie

Making an indent in the centre for the barbie

Barbie cake assembly

Covering the cake with cream and decoration

In a few simple steps, your Barbie Doll cake is ready! 🙂

Note :

  1. You can double the cake recipe and make taller cakes, to fit in the entire Barbie with the legs.
  2. The color and flavoring of the cake and cream can be changed to whatever you like.

Doll Cake