32 years. And salted butterscotch.

32 years.

THIRTY TWO YEARS!

Sometimes it feels like I’m 22, bent over on rolls of tracing paper at my college drafting board, wondering when I’ll hear the roar of motorcycle engines outside, signalling the possibility of a midnight mini road-trip.

Sometimes it feels like I’m 42, bent out of shape, exhausted and wondering when they’re going to invent a bed that will be able to swallow me whole.

But I turned 32, almost a fortnight ago now.

I feel like I have to whisper it, lest it sets off people into asking me if I’m married or if I have children.

I’m not. And I don’t.

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Does it feel weird?

Yes and no.

Yes, because when I was younger, much younger, I had imagined – not in too many details – my life to be somewhat different. Maybe a little more accomplished, a little thinner. With a toddler by my knees and a one-off house in Devonshire.

No, because it has been a roller-coaster ride so far and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. Accomplishments have come, gone and come again. I could be much thinner. There are no toddlers around, but there’s calm and stillness, a complete command over my own life. I don’t wake up to wet nappies, I wake up to chocolate cupcakes.

There are family members who have been my biggest supporters. And I am grateful for that. There are friends who have blindly followed me into the unknown. And I’m grateful for their trust. There’s work, old and new, that makes me jump out of bed every morning. I’m in the danger of sounding like an Academy Award Winner, but I couldn’t ask for more.

To be honest, I shamefully ask for more everyday, on account of being a greedy human being. But I’m content now. And I know there aren’t many people in this world who can declare that easily.

Somewhere in the last two weeks, I’ve heard blatant praise about me and my work.

Sometime they whispered it to each other and other times they said it to my face. Behind a gracious smile, I’ve only wished that I have the strength and motivation to keep all of it up for the next year. At least.

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Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Butterscotch Glaze

I’m a big fan of anything chocolate with anything salted caramel. This is a deviation from the regular cocoa brownies that always seem to push their way into existence on every birthday of mine. But this recipe is more about the glaze than the cupcake. The glaze is your typical caramel made creamier with the addition of butter. A smattering of salt and you have a sharp hit of salt against the bittersweet of caramel and chocolate.

Ingredients for the cupcake

  • 1 + 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup natural cocoa (not Dutch process)
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon of instant coffee powder
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup cooking oil (something odorless and colorless, like canola or sunflower, etc)
  • 1/2 cup yogurt, well-stirred (homemade is best, but Greek will do)
  • 3/4 cup white granulated sugar

Ingredients for the glaze

  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 100 gm of butter, cold and cut into small cubes
  • 1 cup of single cream, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons of sea salt

How-to make the cupcakes

  • Prep your cupcake tins and pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C.
  • Put flour, cocoa, baking powder, coffee and salt in a medium-bowl and mix well with a fork.
  • In a large bowl, mix eggs, oil, yogurt and sugar and whip till the sugar has dissolved.
  • Pour dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir till just combined. Don’t over-mix the batter.
  • Spoon into cupcake molds/tins and bake for 20-25 minutes till a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Make about 12 regular cupcakes.

How-to make the glaze

  • In a metal pan with a flat base (avoid using non-stick pans with caramel. Always use either stainless steel, aluminum or copper-bottomed pans), spread the sugar evenly and drop the butter cubes in a random scatter.
  • Put the pan on high heat and keep a careful watch. Do not stir after the pan has been put on heat. Once the sugar starts to turns to sweat or turns amber in color, gently swirl the pan to redistribute the caramel. Do not stir.
  • When all of the sugar is a deep golden or caramel color, pour in the cream and stand back! The cream will bubble and sputter violently and it might seem like everything is curdling. It’s not.
  • Once the bubbling gentles down, take the pan off heat, stir with a metal spoon and ensure there are no lumps.
  • Let cool completely before sprinkling sea salt in it. Mix well.
  • Spoon over cooled cupcakes and garnish with grated chocolate or sea salt. Best to refrigerate the glazed cupcakes at least an hour before serving.

 

lemon cake to comfort us

Hellooooo.

I have cake!

And some news. But I will totally understand if you skip the news and scroll right down to the cake recipe.

The travel startup I started with Priya, a while back is in its final stages of conception. We’ve named it Altertrips.

You know, after the words “alternate” and “trips”. Get it?! Ha ha, LOL.

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After 12 years of being an aspiring nomad, of changing jobs and countries and continents and holidays, certain acute aspects of the travel industry has started to bother me. And we’re looking to address that problem.

As we’re inching towards the launch – December, yikes – my palms are getting sweatier, my fingertips are bloody with all the nail biting, I’m hoarse after continuously yelling at my co-founder and my tech guys (I’m quite sure they’re ready to strangle me by now, but that will be a battle for another day).

I will talk to you about it soon, in another blog post.

Let’s just say for now, that it has been lesson after lesson, on life and on overcoming obstacles. We’ve been deeply humbled, overwhelmed, excited, triumphant, confused and angry at times. Sometimes all of that at the same time. And the intensity strengthens as we near, what we will call from now on, LAUNCH DATE.

But until then, we have lemon cake to comfort us.

cake

I’ve had a fancy French lime and yogurt cake on the blog before. It had a super slick chocolate ganache glaze on top, that made it even more special. This time however, the chocolate is off, the cake is simpler, more every day. And the icing is suryp-y, lemony that adds a much-needed twang.

Lemon and Yogurt Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1 and a half cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp of baking powder
  • 1 tsp of baking soda
  • A pinch of salt
  • Zest of two whole lemons (or 4 limes)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup of cooking oil (anything odorless and flavorless, like sunflower or canola)
  • 1/4 cup of yogurt (homemade is best)
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsps of lemon juice (lime juice will work just fine. In fact, the glaze will be perfectly tart)
  • 2/3 cup + 1/2 cup of white granulated sugar
  • Whipped cream, for garnish (optional)


How-To:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 170 deg C. Prep a rectangular cake tin.
  • In a small bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  • In a larger bowl, mix together the lemon zest, eggs, vanilla extract, cooking oil, yogurt, 1/4 cup of lemon juice and 2/3 cup of sugar. Whisk together till the sugar has dissolved.
  • Pour in the dry mixture from the the small bowl into the wet ingredients, and mix well till just combined. Don’t overwork the batter.
  • Pour into the cake tin and bake at 175 deg C for 35-45 minutes till a skewer inserted in the middle comes out just dry. Poke holes into the cake with the skewer, while it’s still warm.
  • Mix together 2 tbsps of lemon juice and 1/2 cup of sugar, till a white, opaque syrup forms. Drizzle over the cake and onto the small holes. Let cool completely before serving. Serve thick slices with softly whipped cream.

 

sunday and other things.

Walnut Cake with Tamarind Sauce & Whipped Cream

It has been a weepy Sunday so far. You know how we feel about Sundays out here. Especially one that comes with a side of soft rain pitter-pattering against the bay windows. The kind that fails to pull you out of bed in time to taste mother-made French toasts (that are rarities in this household) and hence you end up losing all the egg-y goodness to your brother, who then proceeds to strut around the house boasting of a belly full of fried bread.

Continue reading sunday and other things.

the banana bread bandwagon.

Anywho, we made it. The bananas and I. We made it right into, and you may want to sit down for this, my first banana bread.

Yes, I know. I’ve been missing a lot in my life. I’ve missed out on boyfriend-made mix tapes, I’ve missed love at first sight, I’ve missed out on the last five bikini seasons and up until last week, I’d been missing out on banana bread. Mix tapes and bikinis I can make peace with but I’m still keeping my fingers crossed about the love-at-first-sight thing.

But a bit of bad news first, dear reader: It is not empty yet. That bag of coconut dust is not. Empty. Yet.

chocolate coconut banana bread

I dump cupfuls of it into baked goods and curries. My friends have started to greet my cupcakes with a tired “Does that have more coconut in it?” A couple of days back when I offered a spoonful of coconut crusted chicken to one of my friends, she actually semi-cringed. She loves coconut. She literally inhaled that cake I made three weeks back. And the chicken was definitely drool-worthy. And she cringed, only slightly though, before opening her mouth.

Continue reading the banana bread bandwagon.

to explain the coconut

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So far August has been a month of revelations. Apart from being irritatingly monsoon-y, that is.

First there was the fact that I actually enjoy cookies. Quite an eye-opener. Then, Saturday at the office we found out that I can sop up eight whole chicken rolls in 30 minutes flat, when facing a bet.

Wow. I’m like this whole new person.

And it doesn’t stop there. Yesterday, after a particularly long evening at the supermarket, I came to the conclusion that I should not be let loose un-supervised in a supermarket. Because if I am then I’ll return home with half a kilo (a little more than a pound) of desiccated coconut, half a kilo of dried and pitted prunes and a jar of crystallized ginger for absolutely no reason.

I love supermarkets of course. I love that I can look at a shelf of canned tomatoes and think of making pasta. Or, I pick a head of cabbage and I know I might want to make a sabzi out of it. And that’s enough reason for them to end up in my cart. But a half a kilo of desiccated coconut? Where did that come from? If you’re raising your eyebrows at me right now, well then, save it. I can blame the candied ginger to my subconscious mind; I’ve been wanting to do a ginger cake for a long time without actually DOING anything about it. I can understand the prunes — I loved them when I made Nigella’s Christmas Cake last Christmas, so I knew I’d be half-happy snacking on them all day. But the coconut? I’m not even going to try and explain it.

For the rest of the day I sat with my legs propped up on the balcony railing checking out all that’s fugly while the rain thundered on outside. And all throughout, that bag of coconut sat on the counter giving me the I’m-waiting-for-you eyes. Stupid transparent bag.

In the end, when there’s a persistent bag of coconut waiting, there’s not much you can do except turn on the laptop and get out the old cloth-covered monster that is my recipe book. The bright screen and a couple of folded down pages threw up a mix of mind-boggling coconuttiness. It was like I was in a snowball fight. Except that there was no snow, only white sweet powdered coconut.

Continue reading to explain the coconut

to the sailor, on his 57th

Dear readers,

It’s been three weeks and I’ve missed you. And although this post is sorely outdated, I thought maybe you’d like to read it.

I think I was about two years old.

Yeah about that much, when I went into my parents’ room and found my father sitting on the floor next to a towering wooden cupboard. The cupboard was stacked top to bottom with his collection of music. The room was dimly lit and my mother lay on the bed reading a book by the light of bedside lamp. I waddled over to my father and promptly climbed into his lap. He pulled me up and made me sit straight. Then he took the headphones off himself and put them over my ears. The headphones were bright orange in colour and bigger than my whole head. They not only covered my ears, they completely covered my eyes as well. That was probably my first experience with the phenomenon that is Pink Floyd.

As you can tell…I looked mostly like a boy for the first ten years of my life.

Pink Floyd was one of the few firsts of my life with my dad around. He wasn’t there for a lot of other firsts.

He’s a sailor, you see.

According to my mother, that profession should come with a disclaimer notice.

He wasn’t around for my PTA meetings. Always a no-show for my dance recitals. My brother learnt to play cricket from what his friends’ dads taught him. I missed him on birthdays. My mother missed him everyday they were not together.

The part that I hated the most was when after I’d been particularly naughty, my teachers would demand to see my dad for a your-child-did-this and your-child-did-that session. And every time, I had to stand red-faced in front of them explaining to them for the umpteenth time that it would be close to a miracle if they could contact him while he was floating on an iron prison in the middle of some sea some where. Life was somewhat difficult given the standards of a fourth grader.

But it wasn’t really. As much as you would like to complain about your father not being there for your first basketball match, it’s not possible to do so if he makes it up to you by being there when you bake your first cake.

He was there when I baked my first cake. Vanilla pound. With atta instead of flour. As rabid as we Indians are using atta for everything from rotis to naans, atta’s a complete no-no when it comes to cakes and at 18, I didn’t know that. Its got something to do with the hard gluten content of atta. The cake came out of the oven resembling a polished rock, the kind of stuff jawbreakers are made of.

As it sat abandoned on the cooling rack sometime late afternoon, I found my father with a steak knife trying to cut into the cake. He’d set the cake up sideways like a wheel and was hand-thumping the back of the knife into the cake so that a piece could be carved out. Carved out. Not cut out. That’s how bad it was. I didn’t want him to break his teeth so I hurried over to him in a state of panic with a “Don’t eat that! That’s awful!” He just smiled at me and said, “You made it ma. How can I go without eating it!!”

Over the years he’s been around for the important parts. Always. He sat at the dining table with me poring over college applications. Waited patiently in the lobby to take me out to lunch on the first day of work. Over the years we’ve spent unaccounted hours watching Pink Floyd videos over handfuls of dates and walnuts. He’s the only who can pacify my mother and I when we’re in the middle of an argument. His was the first face I saw when I walked down the podium with my degree. Ruddy, bearded, brimming with tears and he kept on clapping like a maniac. And he turned 57 this year.

Happy Birthday Babai.

Walnut, Date and Olive Oil Cake

1 cup of all-purpose flour
3/4 cup of chopped walnuts
2 tsps baking powder
1 pinch of salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/2 cup of boiled water
1 cup of pitted dates
Whipped cream or frosting of choice, to serve

Pre-heat oven to 180 deg C. Grease and line a 8-9″ baking tin with parchment paper. Grease the paper as well. In a bowl combine flour, walnuts, baking powder and salt and mix with a fork. In a larger bowl whisk the eggs till light and fluffy, for about 3 minutes. Add in the sugar gradually, whisking continuously.  Pour in oil and boiled water, fold in the flour mix with a whisk till just combined. Do not overwork the batter. Pour the batter into the greased tin. Place the dates in a layer on top and bake for 30-40 minutes till a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top is firm and springy to touch. Cool completely on the rack.

The cake is fine just by itself, but you could spread a bit of frosting on top or serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

embellished with sea salt

So apparently, I suffer from insomnia. I have recently taken to waking up at 2 am in the morning to bake vodka-brownies and cook mint-garlic chicken.

This is what happens when you have illusions about food-ful weekends. When you think that you can work all you want throughout a week and then spend the whole weekend in food — spend a Saturday afternoon baking yogurt cake and a Saturday evening with friends at Bohemian. You look forward spending to spending a Sunday soaking in mango chutney and a cookbook that’s been sitting on your shelf unread since last winter. Since last winter.

But pretty soon you realize that the dream of a weekend spent by the oven is only that – a dream.

By the time Friday rolls around, you’re out of juice. You drag your feet heavily on the way to work on Saturday [because the idea of a half-day at work is still alive and well in India], you droop dramatically over your workstation and you hope against all the signs that you’d be back home before tea. By the time you do get home, you’re so freaking tired that you kick off your shoes, wolf down something that looks a lot like lunch and hit the bed. 24 hours later when you manage to wake up, the weekend is over. Your mother looks relieved because sleeping for hours like the dead made her half-suspect that you were suffering from a deadly brain disease [apparently she had been poking her head around the study-room door, where I’d made my makeshift bed, every hour or so to see if I’d started foaming at the mouth]. And before you know it, another sucky Monday comes bounding through your door with a sneer plastered all over its pock-marked face.

Before you know it, you’ve ignored your loving food blog and its readers for a whole week. You haven’t baked or cooked or even eaten well for quite sometime and no amount of cake can pacify your stress. Under such situations, you need something darker and deeper. Something that makes your teeth work and jolts your taste-buds awake and sends a large consignment of sugar to your half-asleep brain. You need brownies. With vodka, no less.

I made these at 1 am in the morning. When else would I have had the time?! But the good news is, these are the kind of brownies that can handle late night pressure. In fact, to be completely fair, all kinds of brownies can handle late night pressure. I have a sneaking suspicion that brownies were invented just to handle high stress, wild-eyed-frenzy-I’m-mad-enough-to-bite-you sort of situations.

These come from Donna Hay and are spiked with vodka – which is an obvious after-effect of having a half-empty bottle of Smirnoff that somebody forgot to put away, sitting on your dining table. They’re sweet, fudgy, intensely chocolate-y, immensely satisfying and come embellished with sea salt, which is exactly how I take my brownies, thank you.

1 am Brownies with Vodka and Sea Salt
brownie recipe adapted from Donna Hay

150gm (1 1/2 stick or 3/4 cup) of salted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1 cup granulated sugar [try loosely-packed brown sugar like Demerara]
1 tbsp instant coffee granules
3 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 tbsp vodka
Sea salt, to sprinkle on top

Grease and line a brownie pan an pre-heat oven to 170 deg C. In a pan, on very low heat melt the butter. Once the butter has melted, stir in the sugar, cocoa powder and coffee. Take the pan off heat and stir vigorously for about a minute to bring the temperature down a little. Whisk in the 3 eggs till no white or yellow streaks remain. Add flour and vodka and whisk again. Pour into the brownie pan and bake for 20-25 minutes till a toothpick inserted into centre comes out slightly greasy. Let the pan cool completely, before cutting the baked batter into pieces. The brownies taste even better after an hour-long spell in the refrigerator. Serve either dusted with sugar or with sea salt sprinkles on top [preferred].