A Spring in the step again!

the-pilgrim-s-thanksgiving112513Can safely say now that Lady Winter has said her goodbyes. And her cousin, Spring, has stepped across the threshold!

It has been a procession of  sunshine-less days; with the exception of a few hours of watered down, chilly (yes, chilly- believe me) sunshine for an hour or two in the afternoons. On most days…

Afternoons which are lost all too soon to the darkness which descends by five in the evening.

Days when I would pull on two pairs of socks on feet which still feel like blocks of ice and regretfully remember the evening while the aircraft was taxi-ing for take-off from the Thiruvananthapuram airport in Kerala, in mid January, marking the end of our sun-and-sands winter holiday.  My watch had shown 6.25 pm; the visibility excellent, dusk slowly starting to fall and the weather warm……..

From the air, the Arabian sea appears to gently lap the coastline, but the sea is anything but gentle in her unexpected, wilder moments. The memory of the rogue wave, which knocked my son off his feet while the rest of us held each other (and him) tightly for dear life makes me smile now, though not then.

The enchantment of the sea has to be experienced- the waves (turquoise? green? blue?) following each other to the shore. Sometimes the receding wave cancels the force of the progressing one. Sometimes it adds to it. Either way, it is difficult to break away from the timeless magic of the sea, till darkness fully cloaks the beach.

Anyway, I remembered the warmth, continued  wistful musings and pulled on another layer of clothing to ward off the chill. The lifesaver rosebush is still doing fine and abounding with pink roses; I feel grateful for small mercies and count days to the end of winter. Determined to outwait the chill and confident that the Great Wheel has to turn again!

At such junctures, I miss my various old lives and start the game of remembering.

Memories of childhood December nights leading up to Christmas is one special treasure trove. The paper star would have been tied midway on the tall coconut palm tree standing in front of the house and would be lighted up throughout the night, starting from before Christmas and well into the New Year. The crib would be prepared with fresh straw and the gaily coloured figurines of baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph accompanied by an assortment of angels, farm animals and the three wise men would be brought out from the attic chest and installed lovingly in the crib. Carol singers would go around the neighbourhood  each night and would be rewarded with a few coins for their pains. The high point for children would be the night of Christmas Eve, when crackers and fireworks would be lit. Since Deepavali was practically unknown to the children of Kerala in those pre-TV days, Christmas and the harvest festival of Vishu (falling on the 14th of April) were the only two festivals which involved large scale fireworks. The other major festival of Onam in Kerala did not call for fireworks- the emphasis was more on the elaborate food, new clothes and the Pookkalam (circular flower pattern) which had to be created afresh each day leading up to the Thiruvonam day.

The custom of setting up the crib disappeared from my life even while I was still at school; the figurines too must have been thrown away when the house got pulled down to make way for the newer modern house, and have passed on into the realm of memories. The problem is that one realises the value of things only once they are well and truly lost. I really don’t think I mourned or even registered the loss of this quaint ritual  at that time.

Another poignant memory is that of baking.

I am an average sort of self taught cook and can claim no great culinary legacy from grandmother’s kitchens; my father’s mother had passed away long before I was born. I had known my mother’s mother briefly- she passed away when I was twelve or so. She was a tough woman who had no great love for her daughters or granddaughters; all her affections flowed down the male line! Strange but true- there indeed were (are?) women who seriously  favoured sons over daughters!

Kerala’s tradition of sweet dishes are in the line of various payasams (liquid sweet dishes) made with milk or coconut milk with jaggery, rice, vermicilli, almonds, sometimes  jackfruit, and so I grew up alien to the sweet traditions of the rest of the country.

Leaving home at seventeen, and before that always having a book in hand, (my college library was vast and venerable), I never learnt any culinary skill worth mentioning from my mother. My entire cooking repertoire has been gleaned from an assortment of cook books and websites including the ISKCON website, specialising in sattvic (evoking higher spiritual vibes) vegetarian cooking.

So shortly after the birth of my daughter, to combat my feeling of inferiority in the conventional cookery department (and secretly to blunt the sugar coated but sharp jibes  on the subject), I decided to learn the skill of baking. It was the start of a passion!

Much has been written about the process of baking- I can only add that of all the hours I have spent in the kitchen, those hours could only be described as meditative. The churning of fresh butter, the preparation of the pan, lightly buttered and dusted with flour, the assembling of ingredients well ahead of time- so that the butter and eggs are of room temperature, the oven to be kept heated and ready so that once the dry and wet ingredients are mixed, the cake mixture  can go immediately into the oven, instead of  waiting for it to heat up- all require mindfulness.

And the reward- apart from the soft and light cake, the most wonderful aroma permeating the house, which cannot be replicated in any other way. It could be the aroma   of chocolate, bananas, apples or carrot-and-dates, depending on which cake I’d be baking that day.

Of course I have my own idiosyncrasies- even if a cake recipe calls for a pinch of salt, I will not add it; and equally stubbornly,  will use only fresh and unsalted butter. The latter compulsion has contributed to my baking recipe book gather dust now; the only type of milk available here is the long life, ultra high temperature treated milk, which does not lend itself to extraction of butter.

My recipe book also has a page on which a childish scrawl has jotted down a special recipe for God-knows-what: Dal pani, Gajar ka pani, Bas thoda. (Lentil water , carrot water, just a little). The scrawler was my daughter- seven years old in 2002 !

As a pay-it-forward in gratitude to my various teachers of cooking, all of whom are ignorant of the existence of this student, and in compensation to having shelved this passion temporarily, I share a simple and wonderful recipe here, with the guarantee that it will turn out fine, if anyone is of a mind to try it; (hoping someone would!). The other guarantee is that it will really disappear, especially if kids are around.

Disappearing Cake

White Unsalted Butter : 1/2 cup

Sugar (powdered) : 2 cups – can be tweaked to 1 and 3/4 cups

Vanilla Extract: 1 tsp

Eggs: 02

Flour: 1 and 3/4 cups

Cocoa: 3/4 cup

Baking powder : 3/4 tsp

Baking soda: 3/4 tsp

Milk: 1 and 3/4 cup

Salt : 1/8 tsp (can be omitted, as I consistently do)

Method:

  1. Oven to be preheated to 350 Deg F.  Cake tin to be buttered, lightly dusted with flour and kept aside.

2.   Sieve all the dry ingredients together at least thrice. This is to incorporate air and ensure good mixing. Keep aside.

3.  Beat together butter and sugar. Once mixed well, add eggs. Beat again and then add vanilla   extract.

4. Add the sieved dry ingredients at (2) to the butter-sugar-egg mixture, little by little, alternating with milk, mixing well (so that maximum air can be incorporated) after each addition. The end result should be smooth.

5. Pour into the cake tin and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.

Another recipe another day….

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7 thoughts on “A Spring in the step again!

  1. KS Raju says:

    Hello Sylvia,
    Glad to read your new posting of March 8,2015. As always, it is a pleasant reading. I look forward to reading next posting everytime. Although I wish to respond to every blog, time constraints and hectic schedule do not let me to do so.Excuse me if my response got lengthier..

    From the four sibling seasons of mother nature, who is dear to you? For me, it is winter.
    In the north east state of Tripura and in its capital city of Agarthala, with plenty of rain al the time and cool wind all around, I assume it should be summer you prefer, with least or no rain and some respite from the chilling atmosphere, right? I like Winter of Hyderabad more than the winter of Jaipur and Delhi where I had lived nineteen years ago where temperature plummeted to single digit in the evenings of most days in late November, December and January, full sweaters did not let any one to step out of home with out them guarding body and none cd sleep with out rajais.In Hydeabad. After bearing the bitter cold of North for five years, i did manage till now with out my sweaters and my blue denim northstar jackets.Every year when winter steps in to our home, pullovers and jackets, I guess, on a humourous note, might be getting into discussions and wondering if I wd be taking any of them outside to the miser sun and slightly cool nights. One can manage with out wearing jacket and pull over here if they want.

    Winter days and nights are pleasantly cold in hyderabad.How ever, it goes to extremely dry weather conditons.The Jammi Chettu’ (Prosopis Cineraria-is a species of flowering tree in the pea family, Fabaceae. It is native to arid portions of Western Asia and the Indian Subcontinent), official tree of the State of Telengana, are seen planted every roadside, lanes and sub lanes of colonies of Hyderabad , undergoes the ritual shedding of leaves to beat the cold and then to rejuvenate themselves to the Spring. During Jan and February, sunsets are little early and sun rises a bit late unlike the Agarthala- days- with- Sun- disappeared which would again doubtfully!right. I remember reading one of your early blog postings

    To me, Sea is a wonder.During my pre- degree days at SD college, spending a rupee for going to Alleppey kadappuram and coming back to Kalarkode ( where SD college is) was my routine during lunch recess at least once month.I used to watch sea stunningly, and used to wonder why the mighty sea was silent whenever I had watched.But when ever stood on Juhu beach at Mumbai later in 1996 and on a beach at Surat ( when visited my 2nd younger brother who had worked as a site manager in a construction firm), it was sounding anger.To me ,some times sea appears like a Queen smiling pleasantly and dancing to the tunes of the wind , some times a mother who scolds and loves her children with same veracity and forgive them for small mistakes as part of their growth, some times angry to the onlookers who are restless and apathetic to her and in response sea showing same hapless feelings through her high tides, and some times always enchanting the surfers with the mildness of the departing waves and with the gentle touch over the sugary white soil as smooth as fur and sometimes a love-lost lover waiting like Kannaki.. for her lover to return . Sea is for stillness, happiness, anger, agony, loss and so on.. all mixed together like flurry of emotions .

    I watched sea last time seven years ago, at Alapuzha. On a pleasant April evening of 2008 ,Suni was excited to walk on the pearl -white sand holding out her beautiful sandals and watch the mighty Arabian sea.It was nearing to sun setting.. she suddenly walked to the sea holding Vishnu’s hands and just watching towards the the sunset.It was an experience of a lifetime, gazing at the sun and the horizon.. suni was more than knee-deep into the sea, and as it was getting dark, I called her to come back to the shore and sit..she did not react to me as if she wanted to be there for some more time with the stillness beyond the horizon, murmuring to silent waters and to the horizon Was she identifying her with her impending journey back to the ultimte destination of every one born on this earth and to these phenomena, like horizon at the backdrop of sun set, or the majestic sea water, high tides and its might, were calling her through the silence and explaining her that she was going to be reunited little early than others.
    Suni had left to the hevenly abode on 4th Feb 2010 on a grey morning.There is rhythm and music for all the objects and their movements on this planet,therefore Sea would had sung.. struck with grief thinking a dear daughter was set to depart , which raga she would had sung ..to relate to the grief…intense grief ..

    Lord Krisha says, all hail from “Parabrahmam” and all leave their physical bodies and get back to the origin, the “Parabrahmam” again.The origin and end is “Parabrahmam”.

    I quote few verses of “Sea” by Elizabeth Jennings ( 1950-2001)

    It reminds us of so many things- the ocean
    Perhaps love most of all
    The pull and thrust and then the gentle
    Subsidence of of waves
    To a clear, cool wash
    Of foam on the sand
    A sudden stillness

    But not for long
    All night through and all day through
    The waters can seethe

    It is as of there were a reciprocity
    a continual battling-
    Spial, foam, and then a climax
    Lasing a second

    Lasting a life time
    Perhaps in memory,
    such a union of all elements
    Such a peace, however, shortlived

    I reckon, Suni would still love to be on the seashore- where stillness and fury merge in a second, is nt it?

    Movie directors-Malayalam, Bolliwood and holiwood directors made use of Sea for her abundence to pen the agony, the loss and also the expectation of good times..”Amaram” by Director late Bharathan the film i remember immediately and the eternally filmed , “Chemmen”, by the maverick director late Ramu Karyat.

    Few lines about Rose bush-I remember from another blog, how old rose bush keeps delighting you every day with merry pink roses and smiles at you some times with wild profusion and sometimes just a few; but always at least one bloom, even in the gray winter days of December and January when the white mist comes creeping up from the west ( from your blog). The imageries pink roses gladdens me.

    The necessity drove me initially for cooking food for we-two patiently and now it interests me. After we got alone, I have started cooking actively using own “gyan”, available stuff in the net, Suni’s cooking note books, and occasional inputs from my amma.My amma is a fantastic cook.Do you know, amma has never tasted any fish or meat.She cooks chicken very nicely with its smell, provided some one properly cleaned and sliced chicken meat pieces and place them in the big Kadai (Uruly). She does not like even washing it also.I have tried to cook almost all the North Indian and Kerala dishes, and Vishnu says, “ Acha cooks well , adding to that he says, his friends in the college like the curries he carries ( be it alu muttor, dum aloo,Dal makhani paneer muttor masala or Kerala sambar or theeyal).I replies to him that let a third person tastes it, other than you,your friends, and say “curry is tasty”. I think, I am okay in managing .The cook I enagaged long back (when Dr.Geeta joined me for a short period of little more than 2 months in 2011. I let that cook to continue for some more time and she was not punctual and wanted hike after hike in her pay of 2K per month for cooking for two person for one- time meal. Here getting a cook is really difficult.. since then, I do cooking my self. Like veteran malayalam actor says, if we cook with love ( to self and other persons whom we are cooking for) and passion, food gets tastier unknowingly.. and Vishnu complemented after watching the master chef some time back, “ Acha, You could participate in the Indian edition of Master chef, seriously”.. I laughed..

    I will try your “Disappearing Cake” recipe later..

    Thanks a lot..
    Regds,
    KSRaju

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