Kurt

Kurt

At his 70th birthday party

Thinking lots of good thoughts and wishes. Hoping he’ll hold on til we all get there.

Advertisements

Cake! Cake! Cake!

I don’t think this was what Marie Antoinette had in mind when she suggested that they (the French peasants) eat cake, nom nom. Actually, the original quote is probably misattributed and apart from that, it’s supposed to say: “Let them eat brioche.” Oh, and did you know that there is a House episode titled “Let Them Eat Cake?”

I have a favorite birthday cake. I love love love it – well, if I didn’t love it, it wouldn’t be my birthday cake. The cake? It’s a Mocha Cake. It’s actually my Gran’s specialty. She used when my Mom was a little girl. Well, the cake was distributed among the entire family including the bunch of cousins, and everybody got a teeny sliver. A teeny sliver that everyone savored. And it was a treat – there were no mixers, no KitchenAid so all the mixing and beating of the dough was done by hand. I’ve beat whipping cream by hand, which already was a lot of work so I can’t imagine how much work that was. And since they didn’t have an oven, they had to take the cake to a bakery to have it baked there.

I didn’t take any pictures of the entire cake because it was just too tasty to take the time to photograph it

Gran doesn’t really work off recipes. Neither her cooking nor her baking is full of precise direction. Her Indian food recipes are something like “when the oil begins to pearl but not too quickly” or “when it smells right” or “depending on the meat.” Yeah, not so helpful. You need to really have a lot of experience for those directions to make sense. And my Indian cooking is nowhere on her level that I have had enough practice making those dishes. Whenever I cook something in that direction I end up being disappointed because it’s just not up to her or my Mom’s standards. Which means that I don’t get the practice in to get more cooking experience. I also don’t like going out for Indian food since it’s never as good as Mom’s. A catch-22.

I’m not making fudge, but since Gran fudges her recipes this was very appropriate. And darn it, now I want ice cream

Anyway, Gran has always fudged her proportions, which is pretty contrary to baking since it so based on chemistry – change the balance and you might end up with a cake mess. In fact, the last time I made a Mocha cake with her, she basically asked me dump 1 lb of butter in the bowl, plus a bunch of sugar – just based on her sense of proportion. And a bunch of eggs – I’m not sure how many since it’s a been a long time since we baked together, but it was at least 8 eggs. The mixing bowl was already full with that mix, so we separated the mass, and then she added flour and nuts and coffee according to her judgement. We ended up with 3 and a half cake ‘loaves’ – our neighbors and friends loved us. In fact, one of our friends always hopes that there’s some leftover mocha cake when she stops by for a meal.

The cake is basically a modified sponge cake, with less sugar than normal (so many cake recipes call for too much sugar). Apart from the usual suspects, it als consists of ground nuts, either almonds or hazelnuts, and mocha. The mocha is very concentrated coffee – instant coffee dissolved in very little water. I guess you could also use a very very strong espresso. Once the cake is in the oven you make your frosting. It’s a mix of butter, powdered sugar, more concentrated mocha and ground nuts, whatever you used in the cake. Once the frosting is done you stick in the fridge to keep it cool.

Then it’s time for the best part of the cake – apart from eating the cake of course. The completely cooled cake is carefully cut in half . If you’re ambitious, you can cut the cake into 3 layers rather than two. Just make sure you whip up some extra frosting. Now you’ll frost the bottom layer of the cake before adding the top layer. If your frosting is too, well, buttery and warm, stick it in the fridge til the frosting is cool and spreadable, not too solidified. Then you’ll frost the remainder of the cake. At the end, when you’re done you’ll add walnut pieces, preferable walnut halves as a decorative element. Stick the cake in the fridge to solidify the cake. Make sure to also store the cake in the freezer.

Mmmm, frosting (sorry for the blurry pic)

And then, then it’s time to eat! The end pieces are the ones everyone battles for, but the rest is just as tasty. Plus you savor every single bite since it’s made only once a year.

Star Wars party invitations

But – I think I want a Star Wars kind of cake too. I mean, how creative. And the geek in me would have so much fun. And can you imagine Star Wars cupcakes? You know, headshots as cupcake decorations? I think I need to tinker around with that. I probably will need to make the cake covering out of fondant, or if I really want to be decadent, I could also make them out of marzipan. Mmmm, marzipan.

I’ll also take a Star Wars party – the geek in me would have so much fun, plus it’s so much more practical than a Stormtrooper outfit, or Darth Maul or Leia slave costume. Tasty cake vs uncomfortable costume, hmmm, which one would win… Although, it is pretty awesome to see the costumes that people create. Plus there are apparently many Star Wars themed weddings – not my cup of tea, but I’m sure it’s a great wedding party. (Click on the images for more pictures from the different parties).

Would you like some whine with your cheese?

Recent conversation:

“Why are you buying this pomegranate? What are you going to do with it?”
Me: “I’m planning to make this salad with it. You’ll see, it’s really good, I’ve made it before. You’ll like it.”

Next day:

“Why is this pomegranate still there? You need to use it up asap.”
Me: “Patience young grasshopper. (Okay I didn’t say that. Wish I’d thought of that at the time though). Don’t worry, I have a plan, we’re just eating something else today. I’ll make that salad soon.”

Next day:

“You need to use up this pomegranate.”
Me: “I eat to enjoy, not to finish up. You sound like __ uncle. Plus, I need prosciutto. Don’t worry!”
“Why don’t you use the ham we have?”
Me: “Because it’s cooked! It won’t work. At least not in this recipe.”
“You need to make a plan of what you plan to cook every day and buy the groceries accordingly.”
Me: “I don’t function that way, I like to improvise – but feel free to plan accordingly and take over the cooking of the meals for the next few days.”

That was the end of that conversation – at least for the next day. But conversation(s) aside, this was what I had in mind: this lovely fennel, prosciutto and pomegranate salad. OMG it’s so good. If you’re even remotely intrigued by this salad, run, don’t walk to your grocery store and get your ingredients. Btw, really good, really thinly sliced prosciutto makes a world of a difference – I know, because my prosciutto this time around was just so much better. Oh, and I omitted the spring onions because I didn’t have them, but I definitely wouldn’t stint on the mint (oooh, a rhyme!). It helps bring all the flavors together. I love it, and will be making it again asap. I just need to by a pomegranate first.

Salad

Awkward

I was reading a post by Karen at Sweaty Knitter called Domesticating Karen some time ago. She talks about her Norwegian mother’s attempts to domesticate her, particularly for prospective son-in-laws, all of Norwegian descent. Karen had play on the piano and her handcrafted work, including her knitting were shown off as a display of her suitability as a ‘housemother.’ And then there was the whole thing of the young men being invited, sometimes even multiple guys at the same time. Oh dear. Fortunately for me my parents never did that, but I have plenty of Indian relatives where things worked like that.

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match! Find me a find, catch me a catch!

I’ve been to enough of those potential bride & groom meetings to feel so bad for them. I remember when we met my aunt (at that time aunt-to-be), and while she didn’t have to perform (no piano playing for her), her cooking skills were on display since she’d had made all the food there. And the worst part, apart from the uncomfortable presentation was the fact that a bunch of families were there – both on the bride’s side as well as on our side. We were a whole car full of people – something between 10 to 12 people. Poor girl. And that wasn’t an insular event – that happened when we met a bunch of girls (yeah, that was bad).

Monsoon Wedding movie posterThere are still plenty of arranged marriages in India – it happened and still happens in plenty of families. (And the whole concept takes on a whole new life in rural areas). I saw a documentary the other day on the business side of marriages in India, and approximately 60% of marriages are still arranged. The idea is that you go by what you know about the families and how they’re a ‘good’ family, and that what you know and what is presented about the prospective groom/bride of that family ensures a good marriage. There are even marriage investigators who try to determine if the information about the boy/girl and their family is correct.

Anyway, nowadays it’s much easier for the girl and boy to talk individually – something that wasn’t done in the past. But still, you don’t have that much of a chance to get to know the partner, and it doesn’t really rely on the individual personalities and their compatibility with each other. Love isn’t something that happens before the marriage, it’s supposed to be something that grows as the relationship grows. You make the marriage work.

Of course, that’s not a guarantee that the marriage will work out. The idea is that when a woman marries, she marries into her new family, and now leaves her own family to become part of her husband’s family. In my gran’s generation, many women didn’t see their parents’ family often, maybe because of geographical issues, but also because of societal pressure. A woman is expected to adjust to the new family, and make not just the marriage with her husband work, but also her home life work.

There are many reasons that can keep woman in a marriage, including immense social pressures that are definitely greater on a woman than on a man. Then there are the financial pressures. Some women may also stay in a marriage despite issues of mistreatment, ranging from verbal to physical abuse, or worse. As the wealth of the middle class in India has grown, so have the demands for (additional) dowries from the bride’s family, with outlandish requirements for more property, money, and so on. But obviously there can be all kinds of mistreatment – mistreatment doesn’t automatically have to mean abuse.

And yet, nowadays younger generations more and more rebel against that attitude. The divorce rate in India has risen. In fact, one of my cousin is now divorced, which was a huge disappointment to her. She was so happy when she got engaged, and was on cloud 9 during the wedding. She really wanted to make the wedding work, and she was really upset when she couldn’t make the wedding work. Not just with the circumstances, including what was going on on the groom’s side, but she’s also very upset with those family ‘elders’ that made their recommendations and ultimately suggest the groom to her. She now says that she’s going to rely on her opinion alone, and not take that kind of advice. Still, she’s struggling that her dream of what her life would be hasn’t worked out. I wish her all the best, and I hope that she’ll be happy again.