Sometimes we just don’t know what we are waiting for…’waiting to exhale’ as the song goes. Scrimping, saving and investing for God knows what. As the year cruises to an end tomorrow, I have found myself with time enough to pause and ponder. To me this has been a year of consolidation. The previous year had been a year of changes… 2009 stabilized us again.
It is fascinating how beginnings have been woven into our collective narratives over centuries. New Year celebrations, birthdays, anniversaries… a new government, a new car, an opening night of a movie, a first trip to a beach hidden by coconut palms, our first drink or that first date…or perhaps just a brand new day. Everything new is tinged with the hope of something better to come.
What was the most fascinating beginning you have had in your life? Was it your first day at a new college? Or was it the day you got married? Or perhaps, the day you became a parent?
Allow me to talk about one of my favorite beginnings. Yes there are more than one…and some of them have been written about on this blog over the years… So I will skirt the topic of my years at college..or how me and Radhika decided to take the plunge so many years ago… or when we moved into the first apartment either of us owned ever.
( If you are interested though please check out the following links:
Let me tell you about how I ended up falling in love with baking. Our mother was a fantastic baker. While growing up, I and my brother would lay out specific shapes of the cakes we wanted for our birthdays. So if my rather serious elder brother preferred a rather plain round cake, I found shapes like a teddy bear or a butterfly to challenge my mother. And she would end up laboring for hours and used a thoroughly unreliable 9” electric oven to create cakes that could rival the best of the bakeries.
My mother may have left us earlier than anticipated, but she did leave behind a vibrant bouquet of aromas and flavors that my family has treasured till date. What she also left behind was a crumbling old diary with a black cover and a logo emblazoned in gold. This is where she recorded the best of her recipes across the years…. Instructions garnered from magazines, newspapers and aging grandmothers. Some recipes were christened after the person who parted with them…. Mutton Stew ‘Amma style’ anyone?
I often found myself scouring her diaries for traces of her presence whenever I felt lonely, browsing through recipes and well, even grocery lists from 1984 ! One day I had a craving for the rather crusty layered cakes my mother used to make for us. The recipe was found on a page in her diary, slightly thumbed with grease and fading with age. On a slow weekend afternoon at Pune I assembled the rather unremarkable ingredients for a basic cake on the kitchen counter..flour, eggs, milk, sugar, butter.. you get the idea. So I ground up the sugar, and beat the egg whites till they formed voluminous stiff peaks. I beat the sugar and butter till a pearl sized drop of the mix floated in a bowl of water… sifted flour and baking powder and gradually folded everything together. Added a spike of vanilla and inhaled an aroma that seemed remarkably close to the cake mixes my mother made on our dining table back in Lucknow. A greased roti container acted as the baking tin, and around forty minutes after I started preparing the batter, my cake went into the oven. Forty minutes later, a wet toothpick inserted in the center told me that the cake was done. A while later, I gingerly unmolded the cake, and broke into a grin as I saw its perfect shape. It was still hot, but I could not resist tasting it. I had officially baked my first cake ever.. and it was bloody good !
Flavors from our childhood become all the more enticing as we age. The very dishes that our mother forced us to eat against our express wishes, come back to haunt us when there is no one around to create them. Baking and cooking became my way of remembering a bit of what my mother’s cooking used to taste like.
Recipes in a family, should never be lost. They are a part of the common tradition we share with the next generation. The flavors become our identity, while the recipe becomes a family ritual.
Writing about beginnings, I have decided to initiate something new on this blog. Talk about New Year resolutions….
I will be putting up online all the family recipes that we have, so you may anticipate a mish-mash of northern and southern Indian cuisine out here over the next 12 months. Radhika once gifted me a binder of recipes handwritten by our family members on my birthday. So there will be a Kebab ‘bade dada style’ and a lasagna recipe the way my sister makes it. Some of these recipes would also be ours, after all, the story on ashishandradhika.com can never really be complete till we chime in our two cents.
So here it is, a new flavorful beginning for the Year 2010. May the coming year be the beginning of the best years of your life. And yes, as you toast the new year, just recall the flavors of your childhood, and smile as you get ready to savor the new ones.
Cheers & A Very Happy New Year !