The ‘Stop to Smell the Roses’ Cake

Not that a chocolate or an orange flavoured cake doesn’t entice me substantially, but that winter morning demanded a distraction from the familiar. I was fortunate Sumayya Usmani’s ‘Mountain Berries and Dessert Spices’ had sailed from it’s confines of the store and landed amid the cozy comforts of my living room. The author is driven by authenticity and her recipes are brimming with tradition. She paints the book with dishes showcasing the magic of rose petals, cardamom, berries, pistachios and other produce native to her homeland.

The love for baking isn’t new. You know that. Let’s just say this cake is a product of inspiration, madness and wild curiosity. For the sake of nostalgia, accompany me on a trip down memory lane, will you?
In Kannada, there is a phrase – ‘MaTa MaTa MaDHyana’. It refers to blazing afternoons when the sun is at it’s peak, the air warm, the roads desolate and the atmosphere blanketed by laziness. These breezy summer afternoons in the 80’s and early 90’s meant mom-made orange candy set in little ice cube trays or mom-made lemonade with pungent hints of cardamom and a tinge of salt. They were special treats stored away for school breaks only. These drinks were rarely(I mean, really rarely) punctuated with a rose drink that many of you are familiar with, RoohAfza. The cool hit from the floral notes of rose intertwined with sugar and hued in a deep fuschia-red was nothing short of a celebration on lackadaisical Banglaorean afternoons. Then there was also the coveted, ‘Rose Milk’. Another blush toned concoction that got the tastebuds singing.
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Finally one morning , in the present day, I wondered why I have absentmindedly ignored this mellifluous flavour. If anything, my cakes deserve to feel special! The previous evening was spent scouring for rose petals. A Chinese market bottled thousands of tiny rose buds meant to be steeped in tea. I bought a handful and chalked up a simple recipe.
This egg free cake is entangled with rose petals and mildly laced with cardamom. Dousing the cake, is a simple sugary rose glaze. Bear in mind, this cake is brimming with the rose flavour. Like an opera singer’s high pitched chorus. Beautiful, at the same time, strong. Hence, I suggest you to feel free to play around with the Rose water measurements. We were happy with the outcome but take it down a notch if you like.
This cake takes me back to a simpler time and parallelly transports me to an ethereal one. One that my taste buds are familiar with and yet oddly, not. I hope you like this as much as we did!
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RECIPE FOR : The ‘Stop to smell the roses’ CAKE (for a 6 inch EGGFREE cake)
INGREDIENTS
For the Cake
3/4th cup Self Raising Flour
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 cup of Granulated sugar
2-3 green cardamoms powdered with a pinch of sugar
1 tsp Rose water
3 tbsp Oil (I used canola)
1 tbsp + 1/2 tsp Vinegar
1/ 2 cup Milk
Dried organic Rose Petals (Optional)

For the Glaze
2 tsp of water/milk
3/4 cup of icing sugar
1 tsp of Rose water(optional)
A drop of Pink food colouring (optional)
For the Garnish(Optional)
Chopped Pistachios
Dried organic Rose Petals

METHOD
1. Preheat the oven to 350F
2. Cut a round piece of parchment the size of the cake pan and keep aside. Grease the cake pan and place the parchment to cover the floor of the pan. Then dust the sides with the flour.
3. In a medium sized bowl, bring together the dry ingredients and give it a whisk.(Self        Raising Flour, Baking Soda, Granulated Sugar & Powdered Cardamom)
4. To the dry ingredient mix, add, Oil, Rose water and 1/2 tbsp of vinegar.
5. In a small bowl make buttermilk by mixing milk with 1/2 tsp of vinegar. Once it    curdles, add it to the remaining ingredients.
6. Mix well to ensure there are no lumps.
7. Add rose petals and gently fold it in(optional) and pour into the prepared cake an.
8. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
9. Meanwhile, prepare the glaze by mixing together, icing sugar, rose water(optional)    and milk/water. Add a drop of pink food colouring if you like and keep aside.
10. Once the cake is out of the oven, keep it on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Gently slide a        knife along the sides to loosen it from the pan.Then carefully turn the pan upside down onto a tray to make sure it comes out in one piece.
11. Once completely cool, pour the glaze on the cake and garnish with rose petals & pistachios.

I hope you like this cake as much as we did: )
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Reminiscing the holiday season – Toronto Christmas Market

We are moments away from the burgeon of spring and the blazing sun. The cold will soon be vanquished by bursting clusters of flowers dripping from balconies. The mellow, cloudy mornings and flurried side walks, snow peppered rooftops and tree branches sheathed in ice….the harbingers of winter will  depart for their temporary hiatus. Soon, sunshine will storm through diaphanous curtains and light will flood. It is a good, beautiful thing, I know. That doesn’t mean however that the gray skies aren’t…
It has dawned upon me that I have warily erased the memories of the magical Toronto Christmas Market and since I’m caught in a race against time, we now travel back to the holidays.
It was a calm winter morning, a few gentle flurries here and there, when the husband and me boarded bus 121 to visit the market. The temperatures had just begun to dip and it was a freezing -2 degrees C. The venue, Distillery District, with its usual rustic red bricked charm had undergone an obvious transformation. “Possibly into the North Pole”, I mused!
Winter may seem long but the holiday season tends to vanish in the blink of an eye. Amid quivering chills and bustling winds, they tend to be a much coveted warm hug. The ornamented ferns and conifers, the gleaming shades of crimson and emerald, the cinnamon and peppermint infused lattes and teas, the food, the festivities, the sugar & smiles. It’s best to give in to its thrall and captivity. Best to enjoy the dalliance. So we did!

A colossal Christmas tree stood in the centre of the square, bedecked with ribbons and shimmering festoons. Swarming visitors hogged a portion of the tree whilst they had their pictures taken for the quintessential Christmas photo. I wasn’t one to shy away. The tree, however large, was only a miniscule portion of the magic. The organizers had gone the whole nine yards in enthralling their visitors. Twinkling lights danced along red bricked walls & glimmering decorations hung from every corner while wafts of sweet apple cider, cinnamon & chocolate tickled the olfactory senses. Soaking in the boisterous, festive cheer was mandatory here. The air beckoned an escape, an escape to wonderland, to childhood even.

Little gingerbread houses lined the sidewalks, complete with white rooftops. They were really, makeshift shops that allowed visitors to indulge in food & drink & make merry. The husband & me had deliberately skipped breakfast and after a quick prayer to the calorie Gods, we devoured delicacies  like there was no tomorrow.
Grilled cheese was an essential, of course. Warm, melted cheddar spilling generously from sour dough bread deserves a heaven of it’s own. Hot chocolate was gulped following the cheesy expedition. Fortified by carbohydrates we marched into SOMA. Soma chocolatiers makes them as hot chocolate should be….warm but not hot, mildly sticky and recklessly loaded with dark chocolate. The sugar on the other hand is subtle, leaving one hankering for more. What they also do is go the extra mile and make it intense with the addition of spices like cinnamon and ginger. Almost bearing a mystical quality . As we huddled in a dark, cosy corner of the store and sipped our drinks, I realised, that everything was in fact, perfectly all right with the world! Hot chocolate tends to do that.
A man bundled in a fluffy jacket and two woollen scarves smiled at us as he watched his little mini doughnuts rise up the bubbling oil. It was a welcome. One we wouldn’t deny. Six doughnuts occupied a little cardboard box and they were deluged with a luscious, ruby red strawberry sauce. The cold sauce helped balance the heat from the doughnuts and rendered a tart sweetness. It was Toronto’s smashing answer to the -2degrees.Imaginably we scarfed them down in no time.

” We need souvenirs”, we thought as we ambled along the streets of the old distillery, now an outdoor mall for gourmet foods, couture clothing and art galleries. Little cookies dressed vibrantly in royal icing was an ideal take- home token that could soon be coupled & enjoyed with the afternoon tea session.
Distillery District houses an antique store and is studded with old typewriters, weathered albeit pretty cupcake pans , teacups stained with vintage rose patterns and more. It was a safe haven from the chiding weather outdoors & people gave in to the warmth & coziness as they rummaged through shelves & shelves of used homeware. Nestled among these ancient treasures are BOOKS.
Tattered pages and battered leather bindings but brimming with life and stories from the past. I wondered about the past owners of this antique book and if I may possibly stumble upon notes or letters hidden in the crevices. I gently parted book after book with my fingers, ensuring they were handled with care and picked up Joy Street by Frances Parkinson Keyes. As we boarded bus 121 to head back home, I was smiling ear to ear as a  little secret wish had materialized itself, that of adorning my bookshelf with an antique book. All in all, a magical day.

Do take a tour of this beautiful market through the husband’s pictures…

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A Letter to the Elusive Vegan French Macaron

An Overworked Kitchen
Toronto, Canada
February 13th, 2017

Dear Vegan Macaron,
Bonjour!
You have seemingly become one of the most profound culinary discoveries this decade, much to the delight of enthusiastic vegans & vegetarians such as myself. A riveting creation with bloggers and foodies responding maniacally(again,such as me). Stalwarts in veganism have challenged & battled the ‘Egg’ to recreate the delicacy that bears little forgiveness to it’s maker. You surprisingly imitate not just the supremely elegant,tantalizing looks of your non- vegan friend but thoroughly infatuate the taste buds too. The chewy goodness and melt in the mouth factor have indubitably been captivated. You are no fake my dear, rather, an identical twin…
Allow me to abate the flattery so I can come to the point. It is of my opinion that no baker is satiated well enough until he/she masters or at the least, attempts the task of conjuring the glorious French Macaron. With this, I  begin this intense, heartfelt and veritable account of my journey with you. Please allow me to bare my heart and I pray you take no offence. I have no intention of appearing impertinent or petulant. I’m just a mad, incorrigible baker that has discovered an authentic, calming remedy for insomnia,  a learner that is on a tranquil quest to decipher the cryptic myths & mysteries of baking, and, at the bottom of it all, I’m just a soul that loves insanely, to eat, experience & live….

“What will be, will be…”
One blazing afternoon in the soaring summer of 2016, as Doris Day crooned to “Que Sera Sera”, I arduously jotted down the recipe from Blog #1. Many hours were spent reading, re-reading & registering a detailed instruction manual, to the point that it was indelibly ingrained. The author, a kind lady must have spent tedious hours drafting the inner workings of it all for the benefit of her readers. I was captivated and floating in nervous elation.

To some I may seem a tad impatient but set me to do a creative task & I am instantly overcome by the patience of a saint. Aquafaba was whipped to a snowy white meringue and powdery almonds were sieved painstakingly. Le macaronage was done without an ounce of care or concern for my aching biceps. The batter flowed like thick ribbons of hot lava, delicately amalgamating with the remaining batter. The Pipe-wait- bake-wait drill was unduly carried out as well. Soft words of encouragement came from my eternal cheerleader, the hopeful husband. Yet, I failed, miserably. The shells were lopsided!

Backing to the drawing board the following day only to be struck by disaster. The adage, “Third time’s a charm” is preseumably a myth since the catastrophe occurred again. I won’t go on my dear, for 6 attempts within a span of one week led to a similar ordeal. Where was I going wrong?
Well, the chapter finally  came to a close, not without the utterance of a seething string of profanities.

“Someday we’ll find it, the Rainbow Connection….”
Despite the series of disappointments, the winter of 2016, instilled in me a desire to take a chance. Winter inspires in a myriad of ways. The liberating chilly breeze, the gray skies. The night in question was a snowy one, snowflakes descending like cotton fluffs. My heart was full, spirits high. Gwen Stefani sang a soulful “Rainbow Connection” , emphasizing the magic of wishes, the tangibility of dreams….
I bet my hopes on a new recipe from Blog #2 and the miracles spurring from a flurry, wintry night. This particular recipe involved the making of a French Meringue(vegan of course) as opposed to the Italian Meringue done previously. Three times my heart was blown to smithereens. The shells were lopsided! I will confess, two of those fateful attempts, the batter was a pathetic mess and I had to toss it out before it was even piped.

Blog #3 had a much more detailed plan with definite reasons for lopsided shells/Uneven feet and pictures accompanying literature. Another glimmer of hope. Another brand of almond powder. Another round of tinkering with the oven temperatures. This recipe employed the Italian Meringue technique and it was the best macaron batter I had achieved, even if I say so myself. The result you ask? The shells were lopsided.

Now, intense research has taught me that of all reasons that are have been attributed to lopsided shells, the one thing that is not in my control is an oven that heats unevenly. At the risk of sounding petty, I have to say, it is conceivable that this is perhaps true. More than that, the other reasons attributed have been scrupulously checked for. After 11 valiant attempts, enormous expenses at the grocery (although I never resorted to making full batches), an unhealthy amount of  sugar intake and countless nights scrubbing unkempt utensils and kitchen sinks, I think I deserve to place the blame elsewhere!

That said, this is not Au revoir my friend. The curious case of the Vegan Macaron will be deciphered. If this tumultuous ordeal has taught me anything, it’s that I can be a fighter. I’m not quitting, just indulging in a long break.
Maybe someday you will appease this chagrined baker, maybe someday I will seize that ineffable joy, maybe someday I will bake the perfect French Vegan Macaron…..

Until then,
A Despaired Baker
P.S – Here’s a picture of my imperfect vegan macaron. The entire flawed area I.e with no feet is hidden behind owing to some smart photography by the husband;)
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(Thank you for reading this article. I just want to take a moment to thank those wonderful bloggers/bakers who have put in enormous effort in bringing those recipes. Successful or not, I will forever be grateful to them.)

Autumnal Musings…

Distraction seems to have got a hold of me & I’m compelled to blame the changing season this time. However, autumn and the glory of colors that entail aren’t just mere distractions. Soothing greens change to glimmering golds and although it doesn’t technically conform to the science of alchemy, they bear with them a promise of euphoria. 

Summer is long gone and with it the burst of sunshine pouring through our diaphanous curtains. I awoke to a grey, gloomy sky and though for some it qualifies a few extra sleep hours, the silvery silky sky and the the soft rain behoove me to indulge in a walk. I don my long gray coat over a thick grey sweater only to realize my sartorial preferences are blending perfectly with my surroundings. Save for the fall foliage, the sky, the facades of historic buildings & the modern skyscrapers with glistening window panes are swathed in shades of grey. Drizzles of rain nonchalantly knock against my umbrella as I circle & navigate around the pathways of Toronto. A crisp breeze and ripples of chills accompany me. Neighboring pedestrians carry sprouted umbrellas and walk briskly while I amble tardily, permitting the rain to soak me. For the moment, Audrey Hepburn croons to Henry Mancini’s ‘Moon River’ on my phone.

A dimly lit cafe beckons me to enter. Luckily I never leave home without a book. I’m soon sipping sweet, honeyed black tea, seated on a high chair, facing a massive glass window on which the rainy water drops have created bizarre patterns. Erin Morgenstern’s, ‘The Night Circus’ absorbs me, only for a bit though. Soon, I’m engrossed in the picture painted outside. Streams of cars buzz across the street. People are wordlessly rushing while a poor, homeless man displays a sign for want of spare change. His furry labrador is snuggled close silently watching the scene in black & white. A man in a turquoise jacket waits under the cafe awning hoping for the rain to stop pitter pattering. A bicycle is parked right out front and it’s saddle, a wet mess. The ground I imagine is gladly welcoming the rain after a parched three summer months. I click many mental pictures before exiting.

The hues of leaves appear darker in the rain, more vibrant, more pronounced. Most make their home on the tree as they gently sway in muffled whispers. The rest are drenched thoroughly but ornately studded over the concrete of the footpath….a beautiful disarray. I make a mental note to capture this in a water colour painting. These are after all, fleeting moments. Evanescent. Soon, barren tree branches will be laced by flurries of snow and the ground, a pristine white spectacle. The crimsons & golds will vanish in the blink of an eye because Mother Nature never falters. Autumn will valiantly bid goodbye and leave us wistfully waiting….

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I will be back soon with Italian adventures. Until then, Ciao!

 

A Love Story with New York City – 2

“One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.”
– Tom Wolfe
A journey
October 23rd, 2010. The cold, nippy air, despite bearing a stark contrast from the world I come from, spurred feelings of pure elation and I vividly recall, I wasn’t going to let a moderate amount of jet lag or a massive amount of “missing home” stop me from experiencing that.  Call me crazy but this was the land of ‘F.R.I.E.N.D.S’ after all and every red bricked building had me hoping it contained the purple walls of Monica’s apartment(don’t worry, I knew they shot the whole thing in LA). Call me silly but this was the land where Serena & Blair fought & made up but, through it all, granted alluring, scenic views of the city & a glimpse of the lavish, sequined & sparkling piece of the city, The Upper East Side.
Maybe that’s when the fascination began, 10000 miles away and was bottled up tight until this chilly morning, when it all came bubbling out…..the funny thing is, four years later and many miles farther, the fascination still silently continues. That would explain my undiluted love for books that allow me to indulge in the magnetism of this city:
Truman Capote’s, ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ where he so explicitly describes Holly Golightly & Paul’s horse ride amid a leafy , autumn ridden Central Park. The glamour of Tiffany’s still intrigues me although I only have my imagination to rely on.(On the Bucket List.)
Melanie Benjamin’s ‘Swans of Fifth Avenue’ where she takes the reader to a classy 1970’s New York, Bergdorf’s, tea time at the Plaza & Babe Ruth. “Delicious sounds of the city”, she so rightly narrates.
Wednesday Martin’s Memoir, ‘Primates of Park Avenue’ where she forays into the contrasting lives  of the West & the East Side of the city…Birkins, sprawling views of the Central park & Lulu lemon.
As we took our first drive in the hollows of the Holland Tunnel that chilly morning, encapsulated by the waters of the Hudson River, I failed to fathom the magic I was about to encounter in the coming couple of years. Here are some of those moments…..

Like the luminous Brooklyn Bridge spanning the East River. Admittedly, it’s not a smart idea to stand atop a bridge to admire the masterpiece that it is,  especially in the freezing  -1° winter of December whilst fighting cold winds. So, we waited for the warmth of spring. Decked in golden lights and surrounded by skyscrapers seemingly lit by glowing fireflies, the Brooklyn Bridge waterfront park promises a stunning view.
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Roosevelt Island is a little island in the East River and the idea of travelling in a cable car, speeding past the Queensboro Bridge while being able to appreciate the nonchalant waters & the hustle bustle of the city below seemed perfect. Unlike the history of this island which is far from perfect aka a harbor for asylums & prisons.


The unfurl of glitter that occurs in a Manhattan Christmas draws everyone like a moth to a flame. The flood of lights and bombardment of colors at every corner translates into warmth & joy regardless of the winter mayhem. Synonymous with a New York Christmas is  the Rockefeller Tree which has been spoken about enough & more in romantic comedies but allow me to share with you some other spots that scream & shine with colour & shimmer.


Travel back a month before Christmas & we have Thanksgiving. No turkey for me but I’ll have a big serving of Pumpkin pie & the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade please! While a giant Snoopy, Kung Fu Panda & Mc Donald’s soared in the skies, there’s a minute possibility I raced back to childhood and an innocent excitement got the better of me.


Talking about childhood, I have to make a mention of the Spider man Broadway Show, an indulgence but every penny’s worth. The mind fails to reason for few moments when Spider man uninhibitedly & undauntedly flies high above whilst shooting out fake webs…is there a one in million chance that he could be real? (Here’s hoping!)

The American Museum of Natural History aside from spawning memories of  Ben Stiller’s ‘Night at the Museum’ also makes for a fun day trip but beware of your legs falling off! (The museum is massive and a day is too short to explore). Although a little time at the butterfly conservatory can make one forget the turmoils of not just the long walks & the million photo clicks around museum but the trials and tribulations of life itself. Fearlessly, they flapped, fluttered & perched on my head, the husband’s bag and another’s dress & posed with utmost poise for the cameras around….
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Say hello to Rexy & Dum Dum!

And finally, every September 11th, some friends & us stood at the edge of the waters of the Hudson River in Jersey City and witnessed the Tribute in Lights, two columns of lights ascending heroically to the skies, much like the brave hearts the world lost on that fateful morning….IMG_8453.CR2

This ends my NYC series on the blog. I’ve pushed hard to try and recount my experiences, the byzantine thoughts that crossed my mind as I explored the choked up streets but for some reason I feel these articles will always be incomplete, something amiss like the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle…maybe because some feelings can never be wholly described….

Do read the rest of the NYC series here…
Times Square, NYC
Highline Park, NYC
Cherry Blossom, Brooklyn Botanical Garden
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Next on our travel adventures, come with us to the glorious Canadian Rockies, where nature stole our breath, one mountain at a time!

Let’s connect on Instagram & Twitter people!

 

When age is just a number….

Before I begin, the two beautiful people/students of mine,  who are the inspiration behind this post, are the loveliest ladies with chubby little grandchildren to boast of. (and thanks to technology we still keep in touch) .
Now, let me a paint the background. Back in Bangalore I was busy running & managing a little art/craft school . Working from the comforts of home, it was more than just something done to pass the time. The passion for art combined with the satisfaction of teaching made the experience incredibly satiating & divine. Every morning & evening, I delightfully welcomed students of all ages, introduced them to my world  ( a possible topic for another post), invariably putting a smile on their faces. Some were kind enough to let me be a part of their lives and we went on to become friends, relationships I will cherish for life. Every moment, a coveted privilege.

Two among this family,  that remain to be special are Uma aunty & Lakshmi aunty (I call them “aunty” out of respect, them being around my mom’s age) and I unapologetically call them my favorite students. As you read further, you’ll see yourself agreeing with me.

When I first met them, hardly did I know that these two friends would gain the honour of becoming the “back-benchers” of my little classroom. Since they catered to a multitude of responsibilities at home, it almost always ensued a late arrival to class but the loud burst of energy they brought with them was infectious at the least. Always attired elegantly in the crispest of cotton saris painted in an array of pleasing colors & prints, it would be a matter of moments before peals of laughter reverberated through the walls of my living room. Rare lackadaisical mornings merely expected their presence in order to be uplifted. They beckoned us to look beyond that room, beyond art, beyond craft, beyond the paper & paint because “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” and if not for them, I probably would have been ignorant of that lesson. Their affable nature was undoubtedly popular among adults but I always thought it’s their experience that procured them the very prized attention of the little children.
Having said that, none of this hindered their progress in class. Be it paper art or painting, they were pros and constantly brimming with creativity(take a look at the pictures below). They were always battle ready to learn new forms of art, a thirst I failed to spot in the hearts of most of the younger generation. Maybe it’s because we delve in the turmoils of uncertainty and prefer to procrastinate,  that we neglect the “present” that is so gloriously offered to us. Lesson learnt.
I won’t deny that I taught them the ways of the paper strips & the brush but the truth is I learnt more from them than they did from me. I learnt that age is just a number, I learnt that being happy or making someone else happy is hardly dependent on the pitfalls of life. Although they are much older than I am,( and not that I expected it), they showered me with the respect they would offer a teacher.To be honest, it spoke more of their humility rather than anything about me. Another lesson learnt.
But, before I conclude, the one thing I am certain I will never learn from them is the magic they pour into their spicy, flavour jammed Indian Mango pickles & the myriad of chutneys, for some things can  never be replicated…..

Here’s  glimpse of their creative journey…..
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