Run!

Why isn’t running the same anymore as it used to be when you were young? Why isn’t running the closest thing to flying anymore? And why is a non exercising lazy bum like me asking these questions, you wonder. Well, I run these days. Yes! One Part inspiration, and three parts-tension, that he, may grow fitter while I, grow a paunch & a double chin and also not wanting to throw away pots of money into a gym, I decided to run too.

Remember when we were young, running used to be the most natural & effective way of motion…Oh how I used to love it! Didn’t all our games involve running – Lock n Key, Chain Sisters, Seven stones, even Hide n Seek, Kho- Kho( I used to love this game, do they even play it anymore?), Dodge Ball and millions others whose names I cant remember…but I do remember running all the while and I do remember the whoosh of joy while taking off with the wind trying to avoid getting caught …

Soon enough though, we seemed to grow up, and girls no longer wanted to play.Things like propriety & appearances & complexion ( ! ) became more of a reality than games that were suddenly childish… time passed by, places, people, schools changed…my own priorities changed…probably Badminton was & is the only game I took forward with me for whatever little while at various points in my life after that…

Anyway, since the last two days, I have been reliving those memories and trying to feel again the sheer exhilaration that I used to feel then, while doing my morning run…yeah I am constantly pulled into reality by my groaning old muscles and the zillions of to-do s zooming in & out of my head – go to the bank, finish that assignment, talk to the boss, shit we are going to end up over spending this month, what exactly did he mean when he said that and so on & so forth– but then, just for a few minutes, I remember, and I fly.

Plain Ol’ Vanilla Cake

We began the year talking recipes… so its only logical to embark on the first of (hopefully) many posts on food that should be coming our way in 2010. So here are three essentially foolproof recipes for baking a cake that do not shave several hours off your day and still end up looking like you did slave in the kitchen for the better part of the afternoon and then some. Though I must add at this point that baking, like life itself, is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

So find yourself a weekend afternoon, preferably when the rest of your family is taking a siesta. Clean up your kitchen counter removing the assortment of stuff that finds its way over there. For a quick cleanup later, cover your working surfaces with sheets of newspaper and wear a kitchen apron if you have one. Put on some nice music, wash your hands , pour yourself a glass of nice red wine to give you company and you are all set to bake a cake.

So begins a trilogy of posts….This particular post will provide a recipe for baking a plain vanilla cake, the kind that probably has been baked in each household at least at some point of time. The posts to follow later will provide recipes for a rather ambitious chocolate cake that defies logic to turn out perfect each time and is gloriously decadent as every chocolate cake should rightly be… and then finally, a spicy twist on an age old recipe with an All Spice cake. Are these recipes healthy? No, definitely not. And I mean it. If the instructions ask you to add a cup of butter, you bloody well should do that. When it comes to baking, sometimes its best to be happily ignorant of the ingredients.

These recipes are honed from experience, my mother’s cooking notes and the internet ! Most of these recipes are made with ingredients easily available at the local store so just go ahead and take the plunge !

First, gather your equipment, remember…a relaxed cook is an organized one. This set of utensils will serve you well for all the three recipes to follow…
1. You will need an oven capable of baking at around 180 degree centigrade. Usually Indian ovens can be calibrated to a maximum of 270 degree centigrade so this should be easily doable.
2. A large basin for mixing the batter in… the larger the better
3. A whisk , a small wire one is ideal (optional)
4. A wooden spoon, it is really useful when it comes to creaming butter (optional)
5. A spatula for folding in stuff (optional)

The optional stuff just helps making things easier.. other wise use whatever spoons/ladles you have. A mixer/food processor works well too…. but I like it a bit old fashioned when it comes to baking.

6. A hand blender (if you have one)
7. A tea cup
8. Tea spoons
9. A baking tin. Don’t worry about the diameter too much. Just ensure that it can contain around a liter of stuff by volume. A medium sized baking tin (9”) should be perfect. Line the bottom of the tin with paper and grease the tin with butter ( the wrapper of the butter is excellent for greasing a cake tin, so don’t throw it away !).

And that should be about it !

Plain Vanilla Cake :

Ingredients:

1. 2 cups plain flour (maida) .. use the tea cup for measuring
2. 2 1/2 tsp baking powder. A suggestion, store your baking powder in the refrigerator, else it has a tendency to turn absolutely useless
3. 1 cup sugar. I use castor sugar since it is easier to beat with butter. If you do not have castor sugar you will need to grind up a cup of plain sugar in a blender. Grind it as fine as you can.
4. ½ tsp baking soda (optional)
5. ½ cup Amul butter. Either diligently measure using the cup or eyeball the approximate amount while slicing the brick of butter.
6. 3 eggs
7. 2 tsp vanilla essence… a little else should also be fine
8. 1 cup milk… lukewarm

Instructions:

1. Cream the butter and sugar together. Use plain old elbow grease or a hand blender. The manual way is better in my opinion. Use a wooden spoon to beat the butter and sugar together. Don’t fret about how long and how much, do it long as you can. Beating it for around 8-10 minutes is good. The end result should be a homogenous mix of butter and sugar with no lumps and the sugar completely dissolved. It helps if you zap the butter in the microwave for a bit before you use it, it warms and softens it. Melting the butter completely before using it is not a good idea. Once you have creamed the butter and sugar, you are done with the hardest part of baking this cake !
2. Add the eggs one by one, make sure that you beat in each egg into the batter before adding the next one. This is easier if you are using a wire whisk.
3. Add the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Don’t add it all at once otherwise the batter becomes a bit tough to handle. Take your time, if things get tiring stop for a bit and sip your wine. It’s a cake you are baking, not running a sprint. Relax
4. Keep adding milk to the mix as your stir in the flour. Ensure that you do not have lumps in the batter. Adding the milk all at once will lead to the flour forming lumps … so add the milk a bit at a time
5. The entire duration of mixing this cake should not take more than 20 minutes when starting from scratch.
6. Add the vanilla essence right in the end. By now, you will have a rather thin batter that smells heavenly. It should not have any lumps. In case you took the manual route to mixing the batter only to realize at this stage that your batter is lumpy, don’t worry ! All you have to do is to give it a whirl in a blender and you should be fine.
7. Pour the batter in the greased cake tin
8. Place the cake in the center of an oven preheated 180 degree centigrade. Set the timer for 30 -35 minutes
9. Sit back , relax, take a few sips of your wine before you begin cleaning up the counter. It helps to clean up the utensils now when they are still wet.

In less than 10 minutes the smell of your cake should be waking up folks slumbering around the house. At around 30 minutes, take a wooden skewer or a tooth pick and wet it with water. Open the oven and insert the skewer/toothpick in the center of the cake. If the tooth pick comes out clean, your cake is done. Otherwise, let the cake bake for a while longer.

While the cake is being baked, it is possible that the top of the cake may get overdone/burnt while the rest of the cake is left uncooked. To tackle this, it is usually a good idea to cover the top of the cake tin with an aluminum foil around 15 minutes into the baking process.
Once your cake is done, switch off the oven and carefully take out the cake tin. Let it sit on the counter top for around 10 minutes. Run a knife around the sides of the cake tin to loosen up the cake. Place a plate on top of the cake tin and invert the tin onto the plate (with a rather quick upside down movement). Tap the bottom of the cake tin and lift it up. Voila, you should have a luscious brown cake sitting in front of you. Remove the paper from the top of the cake ( the paper you lined the bottom of the cake tin with). Let it cool completely. Once cool, dust with some powdered/icing sugar. It is easy to create patterns with powdered sugar by cutting up paper and placing it in a fancy pattern on the top of the cake before you dust it with sugar. Remove the paper carefully after dusting to reveal a pattern of brown and white. For a truly professional touch, garnish with a single cherry and a sprig of mint before serving.

A million variations can be made to the ingredients, add a flavor, or a frosting. All it needs is a bit of imagination !

Serving Suggestions:

Leave it out on the dining table and watch it disappear . This cake does not spoil easily and can be kept for a couple of days without being refrigerated. Goes very well with tea/coffee. Combined with some instant custard/ice-cream and fruit, it becomes a satisfying dessert that looks pretty fancy !

Enjoy !

The seventh year itch…

Dinner was long over and the dishes put away. The television switched off and lamps cast yellow pools of light on the floor. The house was filled with the quiet sounds of people drifting off to sleep. The night outside was cold and glimmering in the silver moonlight.

She came to sit beside him as he sat listening to the muted sounds of a radio playing songs from the 60s.The dark living room was a welcome refuge after a day filled with the random chaos of everyday existence. Meal menus, laundry, medical tests, bosses and unruly finances faded away…gradually. They sat together in a comfortable silence, relaxing in the pleasure of just being and not doing anything in particular.

“Lets go out for a drive…”

The doors were quietly opened and closed, feet shuffled into the nearest available footwear, shawls and jackets draped and cell phones left behind. The car ignition sounded unnaturally loud at that silent hour… as if pointing fingers at two people escaping the world for a moment alone.

The roads were empty, the shops were closed. The city had gathered around its kin and was drifting off to sleep. The headlights glided around corners and pierced the misty air with stubborn straight edged beams. They sat in the car, playing songs from their college years on the car stereo, and randomly taking any road that caught their fancy. It’s a beautiful city at night. The anger and the dust of the day is quenched by the dew of the evening, and the night blossoms of the trees lining the road gradually cleanse the air with their fragrance.

It had been a rather cold January evening then at Pune, six years ago, when he asked her out for a walk they were to remember for a lifetime.

They were now beginning their seventh year of being together, time for the fabled itch to strike!

In six years, they created careers, got married, built a home and nursed relationships. And they found it in themselves to accept each other, imperfections and all. So while they still nag each other relentlessly about things they shouldn’t , they still wouldn’t trade their worlds for a million dollars. OK, I was exaggerating… about the million dollars I mean.

Maybe it is time for things to change, in the time honored tradition of the seven year cycle… and change they will. How many relationships do you know that have remained static for years together ?

In the next seven years, they might raise a brood of kids, or remain happily child free ! Buy a farmhouse or maybe sell off even their existing apartment and hop around in rentals for the rest of their lives…create a lasting thoughtful career in the fields of their choice, or just maybe, open that rickety restaurant on a Goan beach someday.

From the innocent blinding trust of new love, they moved to a shared understanding of each other’s imperfections…
Once being in love meant sending mushy text messages on the cell phone, today the most loving thing to be done is an understanding smile at the end of a hard day…
For a while, all they had to defend was their decision to get married defying all common sense, today, standing up for the choices made by their partner is what defines their relationship…

And they used to hold on to what had been… wary of the unknown tomorrow; today they face the future with a shared confidence, assured by experience, that together they usually end up doing pretty well…

Yes, things will change…. and the two of them will change together.

And for the coming seven years, and all the seven year cycles they are meant to see together, they will still nag each other about stuff they really should not be talking about in the first place.

The clock on the dashboard indicated it was past midnight. He glanced at her and smiled as he turned the car around.

It was time to go home