Monday, June 30, 2008

So where did all this start?

It may have had something to do with my mom. She grew up in India and was at ease cooking for a huge family which included six sisters and three brother since the age of 12. Now how on earth did she manage that?! Food, great spicy food, food that makes grown men groan with appreciation, that was what I grew up with. I can imagine the effortless way in which my mom made meals come together, never needing the cutting board like I like to use, and never having a single set of measuring cups or measuring spoons. There was always something simmering away for a little later.

My interests in the kitchen tended to be more on the sweet rather than the savory side. Being an Indian child growing up in the US, my memories of childhood sweets tends to be of the milk and butter and cream based desserts of India...cones of mango rich creamy kulfi frozen in the traditional tin molds...creamy puddings made out of thickened yogurt and sprinkled with pistachios, cardamom and saffron...sweet nutty pastes made of chickpea flour, pan fried with sugar till its golden toasted buttery aroma filled the air, and then then stuffed into little moon shaped crescents to be deep fried.

But when I went to my friends' homes, I encountered new wonders. Fudgy brownies, still soft and warm from the pan. Rice Krispy treats, impossibly light. Chocolate chip cookies with a rainbow of M&M candies sprinkled throughout. And the blueberry muffins from the corner bakery, nestled in it's papery baking case that I couldn't resist nibbling on to get every last crumb. Of course, at that age, I didn't like the squishiness of the berries and ate around them. In the perverse manner of childhood, I rejected the traditional sweets my mom made at home for these sparkling new American ones. I asked my mom to make brownies and muffins, but to no avail. Undeterred, I set about to create them myself.

Starting from total scratch, I had to do a bit of improvising. For measuring tablespoons and teaspoons (as well as 1/4 teaspoons, 1/2 teaspoons etc) I just grabbed a spoon from our mismatched cutlery set. I could estimate, right?! For measuring flour or milk or oil, i used the cup that my parents used for their twice daily chai habit. Need a baking tin? No Problem! There's the little tin that my mom steams idlis and rice cakes in. Not content to leave well enough alone, I also halved the recipes, and made substitutions when it suited me. Brown or white sugar, it's all sugar isn't it? Baking powder-baking soda, it does the same thing doesn't it? Bake in a 8 inch square pan? Well all I have is a 10 inch round! And I ran with it.

I had fun , and it wasn't because I was a baking prodigy. As I had not yet realized the importance of measurement and precision, there were plenty of unexpected results. Ahem... those brownies (bricks) that seemed so promising when I took them out of the oven and yet got so hard by the time we reached our friends place. The toothpaste cake, the one with the odd blue-green tinted frosting. I think the thing that motivated me to keep trying was that it seemed to me like I was playing with magic...that a few simple ingrediants like eggs, flour, and butter could transform into a cake or cookies. It was an amazing feeling to have "made it from scratch".

1 comment:

Geetu said...

Baking is indeed like magic.......so much fun to read how you started...