Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A baking trip to winter wonderland!

Braving the wintry chill with a  blazer & shawl,  I stand  in my balcony and find our condo twinkling with fairy lights for the festive season.  The shrub trees are lit around the pool, there are buntings with the colors of the season red, green and a big santa sock  hanging over the gazebo where a huge christmas tree is decked up. 

 Now that the festival of  Christmas has taken secular overtones,I find even the  festive hollies adorn the doors of most homes along with  illuminated  stars and embellished christmas trees in patios . The festive look & the glow of lights around gives a warm feeling overriding the cool wintry atmosphere.

Nostalgia crept in and I was thrownback to those cold December Bangalore nights of my childhood when everything was right with this world.That time of the year again when the days are shorter with mild sunshine , nights are longer and cooler. Everybody would be back home early and huddle together into the warm confines of home for an early winter food of steaming hot pepper rasam, melted ghee and rice. Mmmm.... The aroma of hot rice, ghee and tomato rasam...Some warm memories travel with you for long!

“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.” ― Laura Ingalls Wilder

Christmas to me in my childhood meant  so many things, some of which I have already blogged about like the Christmas vacation, the stroll on the Brigade road in Bangalore Which wears the twinkling fairy lights and had  Santa’s walking on the road with their goody bags and  the plum cakes.
And the plum cake aroma is another memory that is deeply nestled in my heart and cloaks me in warmth. This aroma would arise from the kitchen of my aunt’s place at FRL in Malleswaram Bangalore. Dec 28th was my cousin’s birthday and my aunt would bake this lovely plum cake( without any icing), all of us playing out in the lawns of the huge campus would be drawn towards the aroma of the warm spices wafting from home. That was one of the  earliest memory of home baking for me.

Later, during my growing years, my mom and her friends had joined the canning center and would can jams, juices and sauces. They also learnt baking with a cooker. My mom would add sand to the the pressure cooker pan and make a lovely tea cake. We later bought a gas top aluminium oven which produced many tea cakes.

Then It was the turn of honey cakes, creamy layered cakes and sponge cakes that we would get from the nearby Iyengar’s bakery. The aroma of the baked goodies and bread would reach our house, the 10th house on that lane  at 3.pm when the fresh batch of breads and cakes were baked. 

But of all the cakes, it is the Christmas plum cake  that really stole/steals my heart. I love the  spicy bitter-sweet- fruity- nutty- zingy taste of the cake. In my childhood winters,  I would look forward to the plum cakes of Nilgiri’s, Brigade road( they are the pioneers of diary products & first supermarket in India)  which my dad would get or the ones which my Grandpa would get from Universal Baker’s Mylapore.They all left an unique taste which lingered for long. No other plum cake that I have eaten later has matched the taste of Nilgiris, Universal’s or my aunts. 

Infact, the celebrated  Parsi bakery cakes in Hyderabad, that i have tasted later left a bitter and a  greasy feel for long on my tongue due to the hydrogenated oil or whatever fat was used.

At home, this time I decided to warmup myself by baking this plum cake. I am no  great baker but love baking for my family. I have baked and tried black forest cakes, few eggless, vegan,  healthy cakes with whole wheat, flax, carrots, apples etc.,  and they were all gone in a trice. None of the cakes were appealing to look with fondants and icing but had health  and taste in every bite.

This time, I wanted to bake the plum cake  in traditional style by making the treacle, soaking the fruits(not in alcohol but juice) and it was labour intensive, trying to source the ingredients, planning and executing it.

But, I thoroughly enjoyed making and baking my dream cake at home. When The aroma of the spices that wafted from the oven filled the whole home with warmth , it  teleported me to the  Wintry wonderland of my  childhood times. And the taste was truly magical! This "first plum cake baking" is another winter memory in the making i suppose:). I

                                         The fruits & peels soaked overnight plumped up the next morning

That's the rustic home baked cake   whose aroma  often evokes winter  memories. 

The recipe is here in my food blog Recipes and stories from my kitchen.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Vacations - With children in tow

Nothing for me can be better than seeing the world with my family. Travel gives us new perspective and it’s my strong belief that it is the same with children. We have always wanted our children not to learn just from school books and what offers more to learn than classroom is travel. Life beyond the warm confines of our home and class rooms has to be seen to be believed. Although, as a family, we hav’nt travelled far and wide, there are only couple of  vacations we have missed. We often travel as a family if not to exotic destinations  at least to  interesting places closeby.

Packing for family travels is a major chore especially with a husband who would reach at the nth hour from work on travel day. It was at this time, I realized my children could pack their own things. They were already 8 and 6.5 by then. I would give them their travel bag( which was a jetair kids bag). They would draw a check list of items that had to be packed and put their things in that bag. I only had to supervise. While this was more like a play for them, my job was done and it also instilled in them a responsibility of carrying and organizing their things during travel.

Most of our day travels were car or train travels, while during the car trips they would enjoy the countryside scenery or sleep, we would hoard travel games, puzzles and comic books for train travel. Both of them were not demanding or fussy kids and were great company even when they were kids.

Temples, tombs, museums, farm estates, hill stations, valleys, beach, resorts, relatives place and many more…..these are some of the places  we have visited on vacations. While travelling on vacations, we have tried to balance our travel aims with their interests and age in mind.

 It was at Pondicherry, while we were ambling along the beach promenade, we found our daughter studying in class 8 then, describing the Bastille’s day on seeing the statue dedicated to “The French Revolution". Till then we were just enjoying the sea breeze and view   totally unaware that such destinations can unfold your history texts and open or reopen our eyes to which you’d become used to over time. The very fact that we were standing on a place where the Carnatic-anglo-French war was fought gave a new experience. With children in tow, you suddenly become a new being, not just another tourist.

We even underestimate our children many a times. The child who would refuse to walk over to the neighborhood store will clearly trek down the 350 steps much ahead of you.  We had  almost collapsed after the the 700 steps(Up and down) to patalganga @ Srisailam but not our kids, they were off to the bonfire camp site during our office team outing. 
To be honest, many a times they had more energy than us the adults while trekking steep climbs and walking the wild paths.

During our  routine at home, Children who never wake up at even 6.30 in the morning after several wake-up calls surprise us during vacations when they are up without any alarm at 4 in the morning . The early morning safari at Farahabad( an eco-wildlife resort) to watch the wild life was the bait.

Kids are  such great tools for connecting with new people too. Often, we need’nt put any efforts to befriend people, many a times people would walk over to our children and talk to them before they even notice us. At a resort in Munnar, It was because of them we found many contacts and even before we knew we joined another family on our trip to the nearby Parambikulam  sanctuary and mattupetty dam. Their interaction with many new people at the various   resort get togethers have helped foster many friendships.

But i believe, We have to balance our travel aims, while travelling with children. If we go only to holy places, museums and tombs, we have to balance it with the sort of experiences they get really excited about it. So while they were still young, our itinerary has had many theme parks and zoos although many were not on our “Must do” list.

Today , as  teens, they  heart travelling and they were helpful and made great  travel companions during our last vacation.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A thrilling movie ride to drive out fear

I am not an adventurous person and so prefer to be comfortably placed in my safe cocoon. I don’t venture into any dare-devilry act or accept tough physical challenges. If I had to take any risk it would be very calculative. On the other hand is my best half who is an adrenaline junkie. He loves adventure and tough challenges. My two teens have also inherited his genes. So, many a times I am the black sheep in the family at the various adventure outings and thrill rides.

One such adventurous outing we had recently was at Universal studios Singapore. I was not too excited about the visit because I knew adventurous and thrill rides were the highlight of this park. More on my mind was also the fact that my pushy family would encourage me to try the rides while I as always would try to find excuses. This drama unfolding in my mind was one of the reasons I was not too excited.

The moment we entered Universal Studios, my children and the husband eyed SCI-FI city which had a gigantic roller coaster and the most famous Transformer ride. The Transformer is a thrilling ride based on the movie by the same name. Here you are virtually involved in saving the earth from autobots but  the cutting edge technology makes it feel so real. We had heard about this ride from our friend whom we met the previous day at the hotel. He had warned it was a very frightening ride due to its speed and its special effects and it was nightmarish for him.

My family decided to try this and so we marched towards the queue. I was as usual skeptical about my fear of heights, dark and so decided to keep away. But many young kids and old people marching towards the queue and the constant chants of my family to join the fun, spurred me to take the ride. With fear in my mind, and the words of our friend ringing in my ears I stood in the queue which was in a tunnel where the movies setting with many missiles and autobots where recreated. The setting and the commentary of the movie made my heart race, I was feeling confused and panicky unable to share it with my family who were excited about the ride.

The autobat on which we had to experience the thrill ride was in front of us, we sat in along with two other families completing the 12 member squad in rows of 3. Our harnesses were fixed and there was a ‘voice over’ telling that the fate of humanity hangs and villains are invading to steal some spark( can’t recall now) and that we have been volunteered to protect the spark from stealing and save the planet.

It was totally dark and we were sporting our 3D glasses. I could see nothing for a moment and I was sweating. Suddenly, we were flung into the air and we encounter some monsters which spit fire, we spin,we zip up,  we hang in the air  and suddenly plunge with great speed and another moment crash into a skyscraper. The crash amplifies the sense of speed. It was very scary and at every moment, I was hanging on to my dear life and for a moment I thought I was the battling it all alone in the dark. After a while, the excitement caught on and I was completely absorbed , felt proactive , lost fear and enjoyed the thrill like a seasoned player. I seem to have conquered the fear of the dark or the heights.

I felt everything was so real and perhaps the visual mayhem through the 3D glasses apart from the water, steam and heat effects make it feel hyper-realistic and this is no virtual as I mentioned before.

When the ride ended, I felt I  enjoyed the ride and  had surpassed myself and felt a sense of achievement. Looking back, I want to do that ride again. It was thrilling and not dizzying or scary. I next joined my family in all their adventurous escapades and thrill rides in the park and did not stand out and hold bags.

This was a place where i realized "life begins when fear ends".

Monday, December 1, 2014

Ammavin aranmanai - A play with a social message

 Every year in December we have a week long concert fest which is iced with two tamil plays  on weekends at Keyes school ground. We have been regular to the plays if not on both days atleast one of the day.

This year too we were seated in the makeshift auditorium of Keyes school  to witness the play of Gurukulam’s ( original boys co. 95) troupe  “Ammavin Aranmanai” (Mother’s palace). Gurukulam to the best of our knowledge is not a popular troupe or atleast we had not heard of it. So, we were skeptical about the play, but thankfully we were not disappointed and I was happy my teens whom we had dragged with us, enjoyed the play.

The play dealt about the migration of people from  joint families in smaller towns and villages towards nuclear families in  cities and other continents. As they moved away some of them lost touch with their roots, culture and some lost their  identity or‘nativity’ too while adapting to their adopted culture.

The plays deals with the  above theme through a family which lives in a village home with its traditional architecture of open courtyard  surrounded by garden of fresh vegetables and flowers.

The sons, daughter, uncles  and their family who live in a flat in a city congregate at the family home for their father’s 80th birthday and relive the simple pleasures of growing up in a village home and say such simple lifestyles are not possible any more and are no match to their automated lifestyle they lead in cities.  

While the preparations are on for the 80th birthday, the patriarch  falls  unconscious due to exertion. The son’s and daughter decide to move the parents to the city after the function since the cities afford  best medical facilities.Post the 80th birthday, when the discussion veers towards moving the parents, the father refuses saying  there  would be nothing called ‘Native culture’ any more if everybody migrates and adapts foreign cultures . The temples which are not just place of worship but treasure trove of culture would be neglected, familial and neighbor hood ties would be fractured in cities. He says it is wise for elders to stay in their native and await the arrival of children to their homes atleast once in a year to visit the family deity and visit the native temples. This will help pass the baton of culture for future generations rather than stay in time-share resorts and home-stays.

The play never sounded preachy although it had a strong social message.  The beautiful  pleasures of growing up when life was not technologically connected  was comically built through lovely dialogues and versatile acting making it a memorable fare.

In short, i could identify with the play since the play's message were so similar to my thoughts which I had posted long ago in  "Connecting to my roots"