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 Food, Stories Around the World

Pull of the “P”

One of the new trends in the home kitchen as a sequelae of the incessant intermittent snacking, is the preference to single dish setting for the three main meals. While breakfast may be limited by steamed foods; it’s the lunch and dinner that has seen a drastic shift from elaborate meals to the glow of the “single pie” almost every now and then. As long as this trend lasts, the hours off the kitchen have increased.

“The idea of enclosing meat inside a sort of pastry made from flour and oil originated in ancient Rome, but it was the northern European use of lard and butter to make a pastry shell that could be rolled out and moulded that led to the advent of true pie.” An A-Z of Food & Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2002 (p. 254)

As often said, the entire outcome of when filling and pastry meet up in different grades and variations, make up for one of the simple and well-loved dish, the pie. Though essentially had as desserts, at home now the trend is to the savoury variants. While the shepherd’s pie, pot pies and related variants often grace the table; there have been a lot more experimentation from the varied recipes found online.

One of the newer pie versions learnt was the “homity pie”, a traditional British open vegetable pie. Covered with a filling of potatoes, onion and leek mixture (though, the choice of vegetables can be changed) covered with cheese on an open pastry base; this pie is one for those who want a little bit of vegetarianism in their diet. Extrapolating the recipe, a lot of leftovers can be used, especially if they are less curryish in nature. For the rich gravy ones, there’s always the curry pie to look forward to. Giving into the urge to top up the pastry base with onions and potato, voila one has a version of the “butter pie” (aka the “Air Pie”).

Alternatively, trying to opt for a more pie preparation for an early dinner, one of the recent add-ons was the “alooe pie”. Popular in cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago, this pie is made by frying dumplings of soft pastry (flour and water), splitting and filling them with boiled, spiced and mashed potatoes, green peas or chana dal. Essentially similar to a calazone and larger than the samosa. Coming to the samosa (or singara, sambusac), this is one of the “mini pies”, a go-to for short meetings and quick filling snacks. More than the regular pie, these samosas (or pies) are indigenous to the local Indian cuisine.

Each pie version has it’s own special story behind it. From potato pies, “keema pie” to “Chicken balti pie”, the variety is endless and the best part, is one can use the simple curry to make up the pie stuffing. Such a lot of history and potential in this dish. Savoury or sweet, this dish can swing both ways. But above all, it can be elaborate and rich or just a simple and wholesome fare. Sometimes that’s what one needs after a dry washed out day, a simple and wholesome piece of savoury pie.

Posted in Daily, Random Thoughts, Work

Need to Disconnect

While on the commute back home, after a necessary day of work from office, the traffic lights that go “red” are a welcome break. For that short break is the time for a quick look at the small screen and then switch the focus back on the road. Among the first few steps on stepping across the front door, is to ditch the phone along with the office folders on top of the shelf. This recent habit has paid dividends as far as getting the youngsters over their incessant and constant hungering for their time on the handheld screens of the present “mobile phones”.

Ironically the invention of the mobile phones was primarily to place a call when in motion, or simply put, the ease of access to a voice when on the move. Over the years, the technical point has developed to the ease of access to any information when on the move and not just as pones but as notepads and laptops as well. Though sometimes too much of activity and information can fry the grey cells. More of less, screen devices especially phones have become the “go=to” especially when bored.

“In his phone, Chase had found a place easier to exist in than inside his own skin. That was tragic, because inside the itchiness of our own skin is where we discover who we are. When we are bored, we ask ourselves: What do I want to do with myself?” Glennon Doyle, Untamed

No where in the books of development (at least not that I have read of), is it deemed necessary to keep children or anyone of us mentally occupied twenty-four seven. Sometimes it would be simply good to lie down and smell the grass in the garden. Or to close our eyes and drift to the quiet sounds of nature. Being still is what lets our imaginations grow and inner peace come out from within to the surface. Phones aren’t meant to keep us being busy, but to be connected to the others as and when needed. Regulating the time as per as requirement, is needed, especially as it sets the pattern for the young ones.

With the amount of online schooling, these screen-free moments are needed to bond with each other and to just find ourselves as well as to reconnect with those around us. Having being a part of both the eras, the generation with and without these “walking screens”, both are needed in optimal doses. Technology is ideal to be used in proportion. It was never meant to be antidote for the itchiness within. On the other hand, it is the “itchiness” that helps one to delve within and find their own path of self-discovery and creativity. The temporary respite for the itchiness, as offered by technology, is just that, temporary. Learning to address the restlessness with creativity is what makes us tick in the long run. So once in a while, it feels really good to switch off for a couple of hours each day. Oh the rest and respite of just being with ourselves, is worth it all.

Posted in Daily, Food

Whole and Toasted

Warm, toasted and sizzling; there’s something special about experiencing it. In fact, one of the best parts of the recipes of today, is that they can be blended to make a bit of the “old and the new”. Which is why for a quick snack, quesadillas have undergone a recent kitchen experimentation, though of a more outdoorsy nature.

Originally as per the Mexican cuisine, a “quesadilla” is a tortilla (flat circle of cooked corn masa) warmed, softened, folded in half and filled with the typical Oaxaca cheese, cooked on a comal till the cheese is melted and gooey. Usually cooked without any oil, had with green or red salsa or chopped onions; these days the fillings can be as varied as own choice. From cooked vegetables, like potatoes with chorizo, mushrooms, epazote or even different types of cooked meat (chicharron, tinga of chicken or beef or cooked pork) or even as simple as avocado or guacamole, chopped onions, tomato, serrano chiles and cilantro. In essence, a quesadilla is simply a turnover food, or a “special Mexican version of the portable pie”.

Modifying the quesadilla with pizza toppings to make the “pizzadilla” or even desert quesadilla with chocolate, butterscotch, caramel, candied fruits and the like, are just an eye-opener to the versatility and ease of turnover foods. Likewise the breakfast quesadillas are also made, using ingredients such as eggs, cheese and bacon. Trying to modify the recipe to a bit of the local Indian cuisine, the tortilla was substituted with a roti (wheat) and stuffed with paneer(Indian cottage cheese) and shredded chicken.Alternatively certain recipes substitute the wheat base with chickpea flour or even a combination of all-purpose flour and rice flour.

Making a blend of the Old World tradition and New World foods; these recipes bring not just a feeling of goodness with the meal, but also a wholesomeness to it. Somewhere along the lines, amateur food experimenters, too have added their little bit to the food culture around the world. And that brings a feeling of content, warmth and happiness, along with satitey; an experience which brings a pleasant feel to the end of any day.

[1944]
“Quesadilla (Tortilla Stuffed with Cheese)
Take fresh tortillas (bought in a Mexican store), place generous piece of Monterey cream cheese (or American cheese) in the center, and fold it over as you would a turnover. Pin top with toothpicks to hold. Place in hot, ungreased skillet and cook lightly, turing often until cheese is melted. Delicious with refried beans.” Elena’s Famous Mexican and Spanish Recipes, Elena Zelayeta [Dettners Printing House: San Francisco] October 1944 (p. 35)