Posted in Family and Society, Life, Quotes, Reflections

Pillars that Nurture

“The glory of the elderly is their insight to life.” Lailah Gifty Akita

One of the most awaited events that causes unabashed eagerness of the kids to head to the homestead during holidays, is the time spent fishing with their grandparents. Hand in hand, the kids along with their grandfather and great-uncles head off to the lake in the early morning hours. On some days, there is quite a catch but on other days maybe nothing. Yet the loss of a good catch was negated by the interesting stories and legends narrated by their elders. It was interesting to listen to the recounted versions on the drive back home or later in the following weeks. There are certain priceless things that parents can’t teach their children, at times simply due to the lack of time or different levels of responsibilities cropping up. Those are the times when the gaps are filled in by their grandparents.

“The wiser mind mourns less for what age takes away than what it leaves behind.” William Wordsworth 

One of the benefits of having a strong support system, of family, friends and community is that when one falls, there are hands to break the fall. This support system is like a huge tree with sturdy branches. As a small tree, the few larger older branches support, shade and model the new smaller branches. With their strength and shape, they balance the entire tree, providing sustenance for the smaller branches and reach for the light. Over time the other branches grow large, join with other clusters and support the older branches. As the old branches age, grow weak, die or fall away, the branches above take over their role, supporting the new young branches. A large support system works on similar lines.

“Their dark forms are larger than life, because memories like that grow along with your body, so that adults from our childhood always resemble an extinct race of old gods, still towering over us.” Stefan Hertmans

Unfortunately one of the strong contenders for the time of the kids, is lure of the modern entertainment. As more and more time is spent on “the modern development” of learning through applications, television, social media and the like, under the guise of “modern learning”, the memories and fresh experiences of childhood are often missed. There a lot of things that elders who have lived their lives with integrity, love and dignity can teach the younger ones. Like the experiences their parents had shared with their grandparents, from learning to fish, camp outside, have a good laugh, fun in the garden, the value of a good friendship, respect for elders and all beings, to work hard, to love and live to the fullest at each age of life. The list is long. Cooped up in the mesh of “the modern skills, media and entertainment”, a lot can be missed during the best years of childhood. All the branches of the tree contribute in a silent way. Unless each one as their role played out, the “family tree” fails to sustain and grow new fruit and saplings from it’s seeds or centuries for the future centuries.

“Where there is not community, trust, respect, ethical behavior are difficult for the young to learn and for the old to maintain.” Robert K. Greenleaf

“Listen to your elder’s advice. Not because they are always right, but because they have more experience of being wrong…” Unknown

Posted in Christian, Daily, Personal Musings, poetry, Random Thoughts

Start Off Today

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Reviewing the events of the past week, one is forced to acknowledge that certain “things to do” at the beginning of the week, which were initially planned were still left undone. For instance, the clean up drive previously volunteered for, but later given a miss. Or the intense involvement in the tree plantation drive in the neighbourhood, yet failing to spend time with the children and teach them to love nature. Likewise the person who gets to give a seat for the old woman in the bus, but neglects to help in the household chores. Each one of us may have innumerable commitments planned for the future, but the reality lies in what steps has one taken to do a little bit of that significant something today, instead of saving it up for the tomorrow.

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

Unlike the birds of the air who live in the present, the innate nature of man is to live for the future. Yet in this quest wherein one calculates the steps for the future, the fact that today has still not gone by and tomorrow mayn’t be so is often neglected. Time is always on the run. If both run parallel, one would never meet. Instead, it requires one to observe the course and plan a path so that the future begins in today.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

Author Unknown

We shall do much in the years to come,
but what have we done today?
We shall give our gold in a princely sum,
but what did we give today?
We shall lift the heart and dry the tear,
We shall plant a hope in the place of fear,
We shall speak the words of love and cheer
but what did we speak today?

We shall be so kind in the afterwhile,
but what have we been today?
We shall bring each lonely life a smile,
but what have we brought today?
We shall give to truth a grander birth,
And to steadfast faith a deeper worth,
We shall feed the hungering souls of earth,
but whom have we fed today?

We shall reap such joys in the by and by,
but what have we sown today?
We shall build us mansions in the sky,
but what have we built today?
‘Tis sweet in idle dreams to bask,
but here and now do we do our task?
Yes, this is the thing our souls must ask,
“What have we done today?”

Posted in Daily, Food

Sparkles on the Cups

Originally referred to as number cakes or “1234 cakes” (based on the measures of the ingredients), these sugary delicacies of 1700s have reached their own level of importance and appeal for the dessertarian of the present era.

“Cupcakes take the cake.” Unknown Author

While the earliest description of today’s cupcake was based as a recipe for “a light cake to bake in small cups” as written in American Cookery (1796) by Amelia Simmons, the term “cupcake” itself was seen earlier as per Eliza Leslie’s Receipts cookbook in “Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats” (1828). Though the early 19th century saw the distinction between “cup cake” (based on measures or cups” and the cupcake, the difference was more for the baker’s perspective. Over the years, cupcakes turned from the simple delights to those with frosting, icing, sprinkles and sparkles. With the redesigning and reassembling and additions of ingredients, flavours and colours, the “cupcake” became a palatable fest and an art by itself. For special occasions, elaborately designed and frosted cupcakes have replaced the specially designed cakes, for a while.

With the arise of a variety of cupcakes, many other variants to the regular baking techniques have been seen. Like the popular “cake in mug” (made in a microwave) or “cake in a jar” are other ways of making cupcakes. By the latter technique, a glass jar instead of muffin tins or cupcake liners is used to bake the mix. Of the specially designed variants, are the fairy cakes or butterfly cake, a variant of cupcake made from any flavour of the cake. The top of the cupcake is cut off or carved out with a spoon and cut in half. Butter cream, whipped cream, jam or similar sweet fillings are spread into the hole. Finally the two cut halves are stuck into the butter cream to resemble butterfly wings with the “wings of the cake” being often decorated using icing to form various patterns.

Likewise “cake balls” are individual portion of cake, round like a chocolate truffle, coated in chocolate and made from crumbled cake mixed with frosting (than being baked) made as a sphere. Yet the specialty are in the “gourmet cupcake” of today, a recent variant of the routine cupcake. These “gourmet cupcakes” are large filled cupcakes, based around a variety of flavor themes like Tiramisu, Cappuccino, Oreo cookie shards, M &M rich and other exotic flavours.

“When you look at a cupcake, you’ve got to smile.” Anne Byrn

With each cupcake getting it’s special days, for the Chocolate Cupcake Day (October 18th) it would be fun to redesign the simple chocolate cupcakes as elaborate fairy cakes, sprinkles and icing or simply experiment and enhance the available recipe to an exotic twist. For that’s the fun with the sugar rush and art of dessert.

Posted in Daily, Family and Society, Personal Musings, Stories Around the World

Beyond the Glimpse

“Look beneath the surface; let not the several quality of a thing nor its worth escape thee.” Marcus Aurelius

The neighbourhood had seen a new couple settling into their recently bought villa. Like all small town neighbourhood, this one was no different. Next door neighbours had visited the new couple, pleasantries were exchanged and information was relayed on to the rest of the community. With the husband’s regular job being certified at the town hall office; the two of them were enfolded into the community social gatherings. A little later, few neighbours as well as the police had observed that lights were always on at the far east corner of the house at wee hours of the night. Follow this up with a moving van making an appearance on their lawn with no adverts on them. When this instance was observed by many over the next couple of weeks; the curiously, speculation and gossip grew leaps and bounds. Yet no one directly discussed it with them. Finally with the boss of the young man came to know about this, questions were asked. Imagine the local neighbourhood surprise to know that his wife was an upcoming artist with her first gallery viewing to be set up in the state capital shortly. With the curiosity abated, the neighbourhood became quiet again.

“Supposing is good, but finding out is better.” Mark Twain

The above neighbourhood scenario was from one of my siblings’ account. Neighborhoods like these are quite common, though happening in various degrees or shades. The adult mind tends to speculate, exaggerate and judge a lot. From people to cars, houses, furniture and many more, opinion are tossed around without any prior research or knowledge. Many a time, these opinions are what is taken for the hard truth. Little does one break the “shell of supposed view” to discover the reality hidden beneath. When these myopic view is perpetually transferred to how one views people, then social life becomes difficult. Each person has their own reason or story to say. It is only when the various versions are heard, does the story have a complete ending. Live and let live. Going by the cover of the presumed and assumed, very often hides the exact reality. When the error made is discovered and rectified, it may be too late to set things back on the right track.

“It’s easy to look back and see it, and it’s easy to give the advice. But the sad fact is, most people don’t look beneath the surface until it’s too late.” Wendelin Van Draanen

A man was exploring caves by the seashore. In one of the caves he found a canvas bag with a bunch of hardened clay vessels. It was like someone had rolled balls of clay and left them out in the sun to bake. They didn’t look like much, but they intrigued the man, so he took the bag out of the cave with him. As he strolled along the beach, he would throw the clay balls one at a time out into the ocean as far as he could. He thought little about it, until he dropped one of the clay balls and it cracked open on a rock. Inside was a beautiful, precious stone! Excited, the man started breaking open the remaining clay vessels. Each contained a similar treasure. He found thousands of dollars worth of jewels in the 20 or so clay balls he had left. Then it struck him. He had been on the beach a long time. He had thrown maybe 50 or 60 of the clay balls with their hidden treasure into the ocean waves. Instead of thousands of dollars in treasure, he could have taken home tens of thousands, but he had just thrown it away!
Author Unknown

Posted in Family and Society, Personal Musings, poetry, Quotes, Random Thoughts

Remembrances over Time

“I believe that without memories there is no life, and that our memories should be of happy times.” Lee Radziwill

With a long weekend break round the corner, it was time to pack off for the stay at the family homestead, where the original family farm was still running strong and where the golden memories of childhood lay. One of the reasons for planning this long overdue stay was for the children to bond with their extended family, spend some time away from the city and live simple, minus the video games, mobile phones, laptops and the like. Although there was an initial resistance, they loved their time spent outdoors with the cattle, gardening, late summer berry picking, early morning fishing and the quiet evening of family games. Seeing their carefree laughter and fun, at times one wishes that they could live their best moments of life once again. That weekend reminded me of the fact that, time only moves forward and ahead, but never backwards.

“Don’t you wish you could take a single childhood memory and blow it up into a bubble and live inside it forever?” Sarah Addison Allen

Most of us have our own cache of memories, some meant for bringing the inner peace during troubled times, some as a solace during the trying days and some that just pop up randomly during self doubt. Like the seasons that change, each one of us make memories every single moment. The innocent “don’t forget to call when you reach”, “take care “, “travel safe” and so on, echo the presence of pleasant feelings when these words surface in the memory. At times, even when the scenarios have changed, these instant memories and candid moments are those which stay on. It doesn’t take much to make each day memorable. A lot of kindness, dash of love, attention and peace, laced with a fresh sense of humour, humaneness and honesty makes treasured moments from each day of life, changing our own lives and those around us subtly and silently.

“Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.” Willa Cather

“I sit beside the fire and think
Of all that I have seen
Of meadow flowers and butterflies
In summers that have been

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
In autumns that there were
With morning mist and silver sun
And wind upon my hair

I sit beside the fire and think
Of how the world will be
When winter comes without a spring
That I shall ever see

For still there are so many things
That I have never seen
In every wood in every spring
There is a different green

I sit beside the fire and think
Of people long ago
And people that will see a world
That I shall never know

But all the while I sit and think
Of times there were before
I listen for returning feet
And voices at the door”
J.R.R. Tolkien

I Sit Beside the Fire and Think is a song by Bilbo Baggins, which he sang softly in Rivendell on 24 December T.A. 3018, the evening before the Fellowship of the Ring set out upon their quest. Bilbo sang the song in the presence of Frodo, after giving Frodo the mithril-coat and Sting. The song is a contemplative piece, sung by a now-aging hobbit recalling past events that ends in anticipation of hearing returning friends.

“Long as the memory of certain beloved friends lives in my heart, I shall say that life is good.” Helen Keller

Posted in Daily, Family and Society, Random Thoughts, Reflections

Balance the Wheels

“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike” John F Kennedy

“Crash!” There is a loud sound amidst the silence on the lawn, followed by the patter of a pair of running feet which lands to a stop in front of the door to the patio. Two little pairs of hands pick themselves pick, brush off the lawn grass off their dress, scramble up their cycles and off they go again. As two pairs of adult eyes watched, the little legs slowly gained their balance and restarted their friendly cycle match.

During the initial days when my preschooler had got his tricycle, he was excited and slowly learnt to ride it. Later as he had gained his balance, he had experimented with his cousin’s bicycle. The first few seating’s were met with multiple falls, though with padded knees and elbows scrapes were relatively less. Albeit he had a fear of the bi-cycle for the balance was of utmost importance and anything that upset it was a sure fall. Slowly he had learn to balance himself, yet even today at times he prefers walking downhill with his bicycle than ride it for the fear that he may lose control and fall.

“You are likely to fall when you stop paddling your bicycle. Such is life. As long as you don’t give up, you will never end up failing!” Israelmore Ayivor

Like the preschooler bicycle rides, adults often find themselves in a similar analogy when learning something new, like driving a two or four wheeler, mastering a new cuisine, art or course, learning a new skill and the like. Life is all learning to balance the rides. During the early phases each one of us prefers to take the baby steps as we feel around life and it’s various aspects. Later as the confidence grows, learning to ride the tricycle is the first step. As one matures, we learn to balance on the two wheeler and then we ride our way through the roads.

As every adult evolves at each new phase; one is still bound to stumble around new or unknown corners, rough graveled roads and fall at sharp turns. Despite all the falls, dusting ourselves, picking off where we had fell and going ahead is more important than the fact that one fell. No matter how many security or assurance one receives, we all are bound to fall. It’s picking ourselves up that matters. Like the preschooler who learns to balance the bicycle, one too needs to brush ourselves and turn around after every wobble, stumble or fall. Once we gain the courage to do so, one discovers that life is a wonderful journey with a beautiful view and memorable ride ahead.

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.” Arthur Conan Doyle

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Yorkshire, Pudding and a Twist

Flour. Eggs. Milk.

On one quiet Sunday afternoon, these four staple ingredients in the pantry brought out the urge to try something different for the Sunday dinner. As the option of sweet or savoury were being considered, the experimentation ran into attempts at making Yorkshire pudding.

One of the most favoured English dishes, Yorkshire pudding is a baked pudding which can be served in numerous ways. From being a main course dish served with meat and gravy or filled with banger and mash or made into dessert with fillings of chocolate, the options keep on changing depending on the choice of ingredients, the size of the pudding, and the accompanying components of the dish.

“Make a good batter as for pancakes; put in a hot toss-pan over the fire with a bit of butter to fry the bottom a little then put the pan and butter under a shoulder of mutton, instead of a dripping pan, keeping frequently shaking it by the handle and it will be light and savoury, and fit to take up when your mutton is enough; then turn it in a dish and serve it hot.
– A recipe for “a dripping pudding” as published in the book “The Whole Duty of a Woman” by Lady A; Kenrick, William (1737).

While the exact origins of this dish aren’t traced to any particular era, the recipe in records was seen in the sixteenth century. Originally this dish was believed to be served as first course to dull the appetite for the main meat and vegetables served as the second course. In poorer households, the pudding was often served as the only course. As to the name “Yorkshire”, the probability lies in the crispier batter of the pudding in this region, made so by the higher temperatures produced by the coal.

One of the reasons of its’ popularity lies in the ease of cooking. By pouring the batter made from milk (or water), flour and eggs ( basic ratio of 1/3rd cup flour and 1/3rd liquid per egg), into preheated, oiled, baking pans, ramekins or muffin tins (in the case of miniature puddings), they can be made steamed, in the pan or ovens. A steamed recipe involves covering the pudding with grease proof paper to steam it and then serve with jam and butter (1926).

“It is an exceeding good pudding, the gravy of the meat eats well with it,” states Glasse. “…. To set your stew-pan on it under your meat, and let the dripping drop on the pudding and the heat of the fire come to it, to make it of a fine brown.” (recipe as recorded in The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse (1747)).

The versatility of the Yorkshire pudding can be felt across the various cuisines. With Laplanders (also known as popovers) of the American cuisine, these are light rolls made from an egg batter similar to that of Yorkshire pudding, typically baked in muffin tins or dedicated popover pans (straight-walled sides rather than angled). Similar dishes ( batter based savoury dishes) include the French gougère (a savoury choux pastry mixed with cheese), Bismarck or Dutch baby pancakes, takoyaki (a Japanese puff batter dumpling with octopus) or the more elaborate dish of “Toad in the Hole”. Traditional variants with local flours like sago, split gram flour, gluten free or palaeo based Yorkshire puddings and the like have been tried. The beauty of experimentation of the different recipes lies in simple adaptation, palatability and above all, bringing a bit of another culture to the table.

Half a pound of flour
1 ounce of butter
2 eggs
Milk to mix
Put the half-pound of flour into a basin and rub in the butter. Make a hollow in the centre of the mixture and break in the egg, beat well adding the milk gradually until all is mixed. Then beat for a further fifteen minutes, when the mixture coats a spoon it is ready. Grease a pudding basin and pour in the mixture, cover with greaseproof paper and steam for one and a half hours. Serve with jam, butter and sugar. [Note, for cooking the water should only come half way up the dish.
Source: Recipes Past and Present. A Wootton Bridge Historical website