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.

 

My answer will and always will, be hilsa

“What’s your favourite kind of fish?” asked Priya.

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Her mouth was full of badly made chicken patty and her legs were propped up on the center table, on which lay few more chicken patties, more horrible than the other. The 6-month-old puppy that hardly looks like a puppy anymore, sniffed around for scraps.

We’d tried to get as much work done on the Help Center article for our travel website, as possible. Curiously, it has given us a lot of clarity. Priya, someone I haven’t introduced to you, is a childhood friend. We met when we were both in the sixth grade, at a dinner party her family threw. She talked my ears off and I just sat there wearing a kimono.

Nineteen years later and we’re partners in a travel start-up, yearning for a nomad life and 26-inch waists. I mean what is the point of running a travel website, if you can’t travel and look fucking fantastic while doing it, right?

On Sunday, we were watching Dipa Karmakar on the vaults during dinner, when the topic of fish came up. In all honesty, we’re Bengalis — we’re always talking about fish. We could be sitting in our grandfather’s armchair complaining about the heat or traipsing the Salt Flats of Utah solo, but we would always talk about (or even better, eat) fish. It can’t be helped, you know. Throughout our school days, we woke up early to Continue reading My answer will and always will, be hilsa

In two inches of oil

I’m writing to you from the mundane blue and white of my office, where I have taken a break from Excel worksheets to think about food.

This may be the coffee talking, but is there nothing you can’t do with chicken?

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The photo above makes me want to plunge my face into the wok. I don’t want to think about what the hot oil might do to my face. The truth is that I’ve been trying to lose weight. Considering the fact that I’m the last person on earth to conform to a routine life of carefully selected food and regular sessions of well-rounded exercising, this might be the toughest mission I have ever embarked upon.

Continue reading In two inches of oil

Take the mountains’ word for it

We took a weekend trip to Darjeeling. A work thing. Mixed with tons of sleep. And food.

Well, I mean, look. Just look.

Fish Au Gratin, Glenary's - The Subjectivist

The last Friday night was spent swaying in a train, as we made our way to Darjeeling. At one point, the time when my folks honeymooned there, Darjeeling was quaint, cold and romantic. It is still cold. It is no more quaint. And the romance is stale and fragrant-less.

Now it smells of horse-shit, from the ponies that carry children around the market square. It also smells of smoke from the Continue reading Take the mountains’ word for it

You are what you put in your omelette

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I spent much of 2014 getting nibbled on by a heart surgeon.

Tall, curly hair that fell onto his Michael Caine-ish glasses and a waddle that could give Donald Duck a run for his money. I’m not even joking.

He was charming, which I found to be a novelty because I haven’t been around too many charming doctors. Unless you count those who come up with uncomfortable puns depending on whatever illness you’ve gone to them with. Maybe learning how to pun is part of the Gross Anatomy syllabus, who knows.

Our first date was in China Town where he watched me gorge on golden fried prawns and siu mai. On our second date he watched me down three gimlets and a plate of tandoori chicken. On our third date he explained an extremely complicated heart procedure — that he was apparently quite good at performing — over cherry ice-cream. By the fourth date he knew my dating history and I knew that his first cousin’s brother-in-law’s best friend had a questionable mole on his right cheek.

On the day he wanted our families to meet, Rana brought his Continue reading You are what you put in your omelette

A chicken roll that won’t let you forget

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“Isn’t it to die for?” My friend gushed breathlessly between bites of Kati Roll.

I was meeting her after 10 long years smack dab in the middle of rain-infested New York City, and she’d dragged me to Greenwich Village to taste a popular Bengali import (or export? Import, if you’re anywhere out of West Bengal).

The chicken roll.

Except that the Kati Roll Company is calling it the Kati Roll.

Versions — diluted, exaggerated and almost always awful — of the quintessential roll in various parts of India, do actually go by that name, so I can’t blame them.

Gujarat (and the Indian West Coast in general) has a version, inexplicably known as a Frankie, where the chicken is tomato red in color and amount of spice will produce a hole in your chest. Delhi’s back alleys produce “rolls” that are made of succulent kebabs wrapped in flimsy rumaali roti. Note how the word “roll” is within quotes.

I once also had a Bengali cook at an Indian food stall on Portobello Street make me chicken roll that had a white yogurt-based sauce that brought forth the same kind of emotions that underwear stuck in your butt-crack brings.

“Isn’t this the best chicken roll you’ve had outside of Kolkata?” She gushed again, this time looking directly at me. I nodded vigorously, making sure my mouth was too full to speak and hoped she couldn’t make out how much I wanted to dump that roll on her head.

Continue reading A chicken roll that won’t let you forget

3-spoon wonder

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It is always either a pleasure or a horror to go through old photos on Facebook. Also, one of the best ways to avoid the mountain of work awaiting to consume you.

I stumbled across a particularly random-not-so-random one yesterday — the beauty above is of one of our classrooms back in the Department of Built Environment in the University of Nottingham. I think it was one of those droopy Autumn afternoons when the room quickly cleared after an especially long lecture, and I found a quick second to capture the light outside.

I suddenly realize that I don’t attend lectures as much anymore. I only give them now. To students and subordinates at colleges and construction sites.

I may finally be a grown-up.

Winters in Nottingham are not harsh, but bone-chilling. It’s wet and damp at times, and slippery. But altogether enjoyable if you like a spot of snow, red winter coats and woks of mulled wine with housemates. Yes, woks. Our grad-student frugality didn’t allow for too many deep-bottomed pots or pans.

I wish I had spent more than just two winters in the city. She doesn’t have the jazz and glamour of London, or the cheery disposition of Swansea or the ancient-ness of Edinburgh. But Nottingham was home, at a time when I learnt from my Italian housemate how al dente pasta should actually be. Or exactly where to find perfectly sauced doner kebabs at one in the morning.

Continue reading 3-spoon wonder