Posted in Family and Society, Personal Musings, poetry

Mayhem, but Precious

“Children are not things to be molded, but are people to be unfolded.” Jess Lair

With holidays full on, travel not an option on the cards and work aplenty on the farm; little hands and feet join in. Watching them scatter the hay and the corn, uprooting the weeds, pulling the wheelbarrow along and to see the eager smiles and chatter, are all little things to treasure away in the memory bank.

True that there may be endless questions, incomplete tasks or not done the right way, but does that kind of perfection really matter. The latter thing, i.e. perfection matters at times, while on many other cases it doesn’t. Knowing which is which is an art by itself. Funny thing is that life will make sure we learn that either now or later, in hindsight.

Amidst all this, there are days when we wish for a little peace and quiet and we rush to our “quiet time”. But even so, it’s the pitter-patter, yelling, crying, chuckles and laughter that bring a life to the house. We need a little of that and this. When we chase behind either, things then get out of synchrony. Is it worth it ? After all no matter how lopsided or soggy the cake is, it the taste of love that fills our hearts, mind and soul.

“When I approach a child, he inspires in me two sentiments — tenderness for what he is and respect for what he may become.” Louis Pasteur

On Children

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
As living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And He bends you with His might
That His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
So He loves also the bow that is stable.

Kahlil Gibran

Posted in Food, Stories Around the World

Layers with a Tale

“The fine arts are five in number, namely: painting, sculpture, poetry, music, and architecture, the principal branch of the latter being pastry.” Marie-Antoine Careme

One of the perks of having a sweet-tooth family, is the adventures into the desert arena. With Easter and holidays, little hands had joined in. This time round it was the layered desserts took the centre-stage. The best part of these desserts are they have both types, the simple to the more complex ones. Layered desserts have been around for quite some time, but each area across the continents have their own special and delicious versions of it. From the Indonesian Spekkoek , the Bavarian Prinzregententorte or the Hungarian Dobos Torte to the Goan Bebinca; each one has their story to tell.

“Pastry is different from cooking because you have to consider the chemistry, beauty and flavor. It’s not just sugar and eggs thrown together. I tell my pastry chefs to be in tune for all of this. You have to be challenged by using secret or unusual ingredients.” Ron Ben-Israel

Going through the legend behind the Bavarian torte, “Prinzregententorte” which is at least six to seven thin layered sponge cake inter-laid with chocolate buttercream with a topping of apricot jam at the top and the exterior is coated in dark chocolate glaze. Named after the prince regent of Bavaria, Luitpold (1886); the exact origin is in dispute. The cake’s exact origin remains in dispute; but there is a meaning to the layers. Originally the torte consisted of eight layers of cake and cream but after World War I Bavaria lost the district Pfalz and the torte was reduced to seven layers. Spekkoek (kue lapis legit or spekuk in Indonesian) a type of Indonesian layer cake developed during Dutch East Indies colonial times, made of flour and yolk contains a mix of Indonesian spices, such as cardamom, cinnamon, clove, mace and anise.

Coming to Bebinca, the queen of Goan desserts is a decadent multi-layered baked pudding cake made rich with coconut and warm spices, especially cardamom. Though the ingredients may seem simple, this few layers to seven to as many of sixteen layers is best made in tizals (special earthenware oven) over fires made of coconut husks to enable uneven heating to get it caramelized right. The batter of flour, sugar, egg yolk and coconut milk is consecutively baked in soft-ghee soaked layers to give buttery and smoky flavour. As most food historians believe, the roots of this pudding cake belong to Bibiona, a nun at the Convento da Santa Monica in Old Goa. One of her early versions was crafted with seven layers to represent the seven hills of Lisbon and Old Goa. As it was found to small, the layers had increased. Served along with coffee or ice-cream, or just as it is, a bite of bebinca is a feeling of bliss which can’t be expressed by words alone.

While these layered cakes to puddings just touch the tip of the entire world, the Russian medovik and the Hungarian dobos-torte are next on the list. With travelling being restricted, these recipes help bring a part of these places to the doorstep. And then would be time for another adventure of not just the palate but also an insight into the story of those times of then to the now.

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Twist in the “Cup”

Quiet mornings are high on the wish-list these days, so when the weekend rolls over; the lure of the peace is strengthened by a hearty cuppa. With the new trend of butter to bulletproof coffee, yours truly did a couple of twist after intense research and experimentation to give a different flavour to each weekend of the month. As the new saying may be like something new, something old and then an extra something borrowed (not blue) gives a new vibe for the coming week.

Coming to coffee trend across the continents, the Austrian Kaisemelange can keep one guessing the ingredients. Traditionally made by mixing the egg yolk and honey, and adding strong black coffee while stirring gradually; the flavours give a different meaning for the day. Doing it at home, it took quite a number of tries to get all the proportions in sync.

On the other hand, the traditional Finnish “Kaffeost” combines the cheese to the coffee. Into the birch burl carved mug, a cube of cheese (originally juustoleipä from reindeer milk, leipäjuusto or juusto; recipe variations mention about bread cheese) is placed at the bottom and boiling black coffee is poured into it. As the coffee is being sipped, the softened chunks can be spooned out or left behind as dregs. This coffee flavoured cheese and the nutty buttery coffee flavour, gives off a dessert-ish vibe and especially enrich the morning routine.

“Like a symphony, coffee’s power rests in the hands of a few individuals who orchestrate its appeal. So much can go wrong during the journey from soil to cup that when everything goes right, it is nothing short of brilliant! After all, coffee doesn’t lie. It can’t. Every sip is proof of the artistry – technical as well as human – that went into its creation.” Howard Schultz

Going across to the next continent, the traditional Malaysian “Ipoh White Coffee” is made by roasting the coffee beans with margarine and no added sugar. Roasting the beans with wheat, sugar and margarine gives the other popular Malaysian ‘black’ coffee roast (Kopi-O). Coming to the Indian kitchen, the ever popular spice rack holds a special position there. Which is why the Mexican Café de Olla was on the “to try” list. Made traditionally in the earthen clay pot, the basic ingredients include ground coffee, cinnamon and piloncillo (unrefined whole cane sugar or dark brown sugar); served with optional ingredients like orange peel, anise, and clove to spice it up. pot brewed coffee with raw sugar and spices. The coffee is prepared in a stainless steel saucepan with water, brown sugar, cinnamon and dark roasted ground coffee and served in a cup with an orange peel.

All in all, the different “coffee trends” around the globe makes for an interesting experience, whether it be in the popular cafe or in the comfort of our kitchen. Each “cuppa joe” has its’ own special story, to share, experience and relish in; a voyage even in the these times.

Posted in Food, Stories Around the World

Flavour to the Season

“Cocoa, chocolate, candy sticks, raisins, nuts, sprinkles, glaces cherries….(something’s missing though..oh yes) and “marshmallows (three extra large packs)”….”

The above dialogues were a part of the conversation on the drive to the larger town for the purchase of this season’s must haves. With free hours, this sudden impromptu plan needed an emergency list, for visits to the nearest metro city was almost like going for a short tour to the nearest hill station, thanks to the present global scenario.

Essentially a confectionery made of sugar, a whipping agent (aerator) and water mixed with air; marshmallows have a history that goes as early as two millennial before the anno Domini ear. As the records go, the Egyptians were believed to be the first to make them. Surprisingly the first marshmallows were prepared from the roots of Althaea officinalis, a mallow plant species wherein the pieces of root pulp was boiled with honey till a thickened mixture was formed. This mixture was then strained and cooled before being added to the various preparations; both as a medicine to soothe coughs and sore throats or to the recipes of those days.

Towards the mid 19th century, the simple marshmallow reached the French confectioners to be remodeled into a fluffy candy mould, the “Pâte de Guimauve” which was made from whipping dried marshmallow roots with sugar, water, and egg whites into a white spongy desert. Later these mallow roots were replaced with gelatin to create more stability to the marshmallow. The present ropy or cylindrical marshmallow, a must-have for the winters and holiday seasons, was the brainchild of the Greek American confectioner Alex Doumak. In fact, no two brands (homemade or commercial) or varieties of marshmallows give the same flavour. Whether it be the difference in the concentrations of egg whites or gelatin (some include agar) or the ratios of sucrose, corn syrup or invert sugar, combined with the special flavours like vanilla or lemon juice; the marshmallow often lends a unique twist to the regular, especially the season favourite of hot chocolate.

All said and written, there’s something about the marshmallow that gives that little extra zing to the simple preparations or exotic ones like crazy snack pie, mini fluffernutter brownie cups, panini or even the s’mores latte. So into the cart, goes three extra large packets of them, for this season’s holiday cooking.

Posted in Daily, Food

An “In-dul-gence”

More than forty eight hours, still the excuse to indulge in a little of the delectable sweetness of “c” stays on. On a frank note, the gift from the simple cacao seeds don’t really need any special day to be enjoyed; yet on the need for a reason to binge on it, these special choclate based days are noted and celebrated. On such a note, a couple of us “chocolate-fanatics” decided to give the online chocolataire a whirl and oh what a visual treat was it. Though obsolete now, a chocolate themed social gathering gives a boost tot he low morale during these “locked in periods”.

“Chocolate Wine. Take a pint of Sherry, or a pint and a half of Port, four ounces and a half of chocolate, six ounces of fine sugar, and half an ounce of white starch, or find flour; mix, dissolve, and boil all these together for about ten or twelve minutes. But if your chocolate is made with sugar, take double the quantity of chocolate, and half the quantity of sugar.” (The Cook’s Own Book: Being a Culinary Encyclopedia, Mrs. N.K.M. Lee, facsimile 1832 edition [Arno Press:New York] 1972 (p. 51))

From being processed, blended, conched, tempered and stored, chocolate has undergone a bit more changes, primarily to the percentages of cocoa solid, fats or both along with added ingredients, to give the many varieties of today. Interestingly cocoa can be combined with vegetable fat (tropical or hydrogenated fats) to give the confection of compound chocolate. Though not legally “chocolate”, it can be used as a dipping sauce, candy bar coatings or just to give the feel of chocolate to a simple dessert, biscuits or even pie. Alternatively for amateur home experimenters (like yours truly); melting chocolate with glucose, golden or corn syrup to make the modeling chocolate for homemade decorations to sponge cakes, cupcakes and the like brings a feeling of bringing a bit of the delicatessen home. On a very sweet and sour note, chocolate too has its’ own tune with the creation of Callebaut’s Ruby chocolate. Made from the Ruby cocoa bean, the distinct red colour gives a flair to the dramatic taste.

The quest to find a “cool and practical recipe” for the impromptu chocolataire has opened up a whole range of ideas and range of experimentation. With many recipes being borrowed, jotted and modified; chocolate will be one of the musts for cacao based desert crazy folks. As they say old is gold; with a little bit of “this and that”, it gives a good feel for the taste buds and an enjoyable ride for the memory cells especially as they age over time.

[1957]
“Chocolate Fondue: Hot Dessert
2 squares (ounces) unsweetened chocolate, 1 cup milk, 1 cup soft breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 3 eggs separated. Add chocolate, broken in pieces, to milk. Heat till chocolate melts; stir till blended. Add crumbs, butter, sugar, salt. Beat egg yolks slightly. Stir in a little of the hot milk, add to milk mixture, cool. Beat egg whites till stiff; fold into cooled mixture. Turn into a five-cup greased baking dish. Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees F.) about forty minutes. Serve hot with whipped cream. Yield: Four servings.” (“Our Daily Bread,” Jane Nickerson New York Times, September 8, 1957 (p. SM46))

Posted in Family and Society, Life, Personal Musings, Photography Art, Stories Around the World

The Flight to Catch

“All our sweetest hours fly fastest.” Virgil

Every now and then, when school isn’t there between the turn of the academic sessions, we take a day off in the middle of the week. Nothing exclusive or exciting is planned. With the weather being nice, we just pack off a picnic lunch, couple of snack meals and then head off for a local park, hill top or just the beach. The purpose was always to just set the ball rolling and have some downtime with the kids. For the impromptu rainy days, it would be spent outdoor with paper boats, in the tree house or just a family camp-out in the fields.

We started this trend once we realized that each of us have our own tight morning schedules. With the kids being in school and we both, as parents having our own work environment, the family ground was just reduced to evening hours, domestic chores, dinner and Sundays. The effect was the feel of drifting away, even though evenings were there. Which is why, when things are light, we all pack off to make our own memories. For while our independent days are important with a mix of choice and necessity, these special days are occasions for us o bond better with each other, help us find our even footing in the paths of life and keep us connected for the later days in life.

Reflecting back on own childhood days, the personal cache of recalls not relate to travels alone but also of the impromptu baking or art sessions in my mother’s studio, going for long treks, camp-outs and the days on the farm especially during summer. Those days never had any fancy restaurants, social media applications or instant transfer of media, commentary or comparisons. Those days were spent on the moments. As the wise of those days knew, that was the gift of life and time.

All of us have our own hectic schedules, whether as students, professionals, part-time employees, entrepreneurs, homemakers and the like. While some of may be able to prioritize between friends and family, sometimes the distribution of time is way off the ideal for our own personal balance. While one may try to shorten everything to what is necessary and important based on social requirements; know that time is of a fleeing essence. It may be there one minute, but gone the next. Realization of this little fact works wonders in helping us balance out and regroup the priorities in their required manner.

Man only lives once, but creates memories and moments, meant for lifetime. When those of regret linger longer, it tends to wipe out the best parts of life, besides draining one internally. Looking back on those moments, when one tries to set their priorities right, the days become sweet, full of life, rich with laughter and treasured moments.

“Time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters.” Margaret Peters

While at the park one day, a woman sat down next to a man on a bench near a playground. “That’s my son over there,” she said, pointing to a little boy in a red sweater who was gliding down the slide. “He’s a fine looking boy”, the man said. “That’s my daughter on the bike in the white dress.” Then, looking at his watch, he called to his daughter. “What do you say we go, Melissa?” Melissa pleaded, “Just five more minutes, Dad. Please? Just five more minutes.” The man nodded and Melissa continued to ride her bike to her heart’s content. Minutes passed and the father stood and called again to his daughter. “Time to go now?” Again Melissa pleaded, “Five more minutes, Dad. Just five more minutes.” The man smiled and said, “OK.” “My, you certainly are a patient father,” the woman responded.

The man smiled and then said, “Her older brother Tommy was killed by a drunk driver last year while he was riding his bike near here. I never spent much time with Tommy and now I’d give anything for just five more minutes with him. I’ve vowed not to make the same mistake with Melissa. She thinks she has five more minutes to ride her bike. The truth is, I get five more minutes to watch her play.”
Source: Social Media (via The Internet)

Posted in Food

Of Bread, Soupy and Homemade

Staying at home, meal hours have been shifted earlier with the children demanding a bit of variety from the regular meals. The catch is to keep it simple, nutritious and wholesome without using sugar as a lure. Which is why when there is an excess of bread going dry, soon added to the menu is bread soup.

As the namesake goes, “Bread soup” is essentially a simple soup mainly made of bread (stale preferred, white or brown) with the base being either as a meat or vegetable broth and the bread being either cut into pieces and then into the broth, or those little pieces being cooked with onions and spices in a broth and pureed. While scouring for new recipes, it was interesting to note that there were plenty of varied styles depending on the country and the local cuisine. While the origin may be traced to the Lenten days, it is no longer confined to them or even the cold winters. Bread soup is a welcome add to the menu, for quick dinners or light repast.

One of the famed bread soups is the, Acquacotta. A hot broth based bread soup with primary ingredients of water, stale bread, onions, various vegetables, leftovers and olive oil which came into the early local cuisuine of Maremma (southern Tuscany and northern Lazio). Records mention of agresto (juice derived from half ripened grapes) used in the earlier 1800s, till tomatoes took their place in the recipe.

Another famed Tuscan bread soup is the Ribollita. Originally dating back to the Middle Ages, this soup was originally made by reheating the leftover minestrone or vegetable soup from the previous day. Later on, this hearty pottage was made with leftover bread along with cannellini beans, kale, cabbage, carrots, beans, chard, celery, potatoes, onions or other vegetables of choice. For all those who love tomato in any form, there is the “Pappa al pomodoro” literally translated as tomato mush. This thick bread soup is prepared with fresh tomatoes, bread, olive oil, garlic, basil and various other fresh ingredients, served hot or chilled.

Bread soup per se, can include the addition of bacon, egg or cream. Millefanti, an Itlaian variation uses egg and Parmesan cheese. Certain recipes include wine and more rustic version, include addition of malt or beer. One of the specialities of Portuguese cuisine especially in the Alentejo region, is the Açorda. Made typically of thinly sliced bread with garlic, lots of finely chopped coriander, olive oil, vinegar, water, white pepper, salt and poached eggs. First a mashed coarse paste of garlic, coriander, salt are mixed with olive oil and vinegar; then poured over the bread. The poached eggs are then placed over the bread with the salted water used poured over with chicken stock added. Left to steam for a few minutes, the final dish may have a bright green touch. Other variations include the açorda are the açorda de marisco or camarão (made with shrimp) or açorda de bacalhau (codfish).

While one can go with the exotic touch for bread soup, keeping it simple gives its’ own rustic flavour. With the purchase of groceries being limited in the present locked down state, stretching provisions with inventiveness is the need of the hour. Which is why in the hunt of simple new recipes, sprucing up old ones and keeping to home grown ingredients get an upper hand. With all these in mind and the summer fruit slowing coming through, inventiveness and resourcefulness help to give sparkle to the stay-at-home days. For these occasions give photographic memories and moments for the next generation, realized in retrospection over the span of time.