Month: December 2019

Time: Old & New, Flying & Pausing

Time gone by & what lies ahead

Old year departs gently, ushering in the New

So lured are we by the glamour & glitter of the New, that we forget the Old, its goodness, its warmth, as we fly with the time

New hopes, new dreams, new aspirations, desires & ambitions lead us on to fascinating avenues & lanes

A journey so challenging & exhilarating that leaves us with little time to pause & ponder

Then, one day, when we stop to catch a breath and absentmindedly look back, the spectacle of our yesteryear’s memoirs, diaries & recollections spring back at us

The lazy days when we would listen to a play on AIR, or the exciting days when TV invaded our drawing rooms with Asiad, to be later taken over by crazy online streaming

Taking eager steps to school in Bata shoes, weighed down by Duckback school bag heavy with books, dreams and ambitions

Travelling in 2nd class, a coach full of students, heart full of aspirations, to the realm that takes us a step closer to so many dreams that whisper in our ears

Some dreams are fulfilled, some forgotten, some broken, some carelessly tossed away, adorn our path as we move along

The pride and joy of owning the first Nokia mobile phone, making the first brief call, packing in as many words in as little time, for rates were high

The arriving in life moment with the first Blackberry, replacing it with little thought with iPhone, Samsung Note and what not, for choices are many

Switching happily from DTC buses, to auto, to the proud ride in first Maruti 800

Moving on from a generation that held on to dreams, clung on romantically to a few material possessions, to a generation that’s spoilt for choice, often confused, bemused or bewildered, easily disillusioned

As we look back, time pauses for a while, to string together our forgotten or lost dreams chipped and dulled with years, new wishes and resolutions glowing with hope and yearnings, into a glittering, uneven multi-coloured necklace.

My Christmas Cake 😊

It’s Christmas time! There’s a Christmas tree everywhere – in malls, offices, even in our living rooms. December chill is succumbing to the fervor of festivities, parties are being planned, excitement around Santa or secret Santa – there’s something magical about Christmas!

And Christmas is not complete without cakes. When I was girl in Agartala, we would pick Christmas cakes from local bakeries, Laxmi Bakery and Sudipto Bakery, the leading bakeries then. The Christmas cakes were pretty basic, with some candied fruits and peanuts and a(supposedly) red cherry on top. The so-called cherry was Karamcha or Bengal Current sweetened in sugar syrup. I would go for that cherry (to my mom’s great displeasure) moment the cake was unwrapped. Both the bakeries are still thriving and have introduced many innovations in their cakes & pastries since.

Once I started baking, I would bake rich fruit cakes for Christmas. But this year I decided to bake a proper boozy Christmas cake. As I don’t like rum, I decided to replace it with brandy. The liquor shop guy suggested that I use Morpheus. As the name sounded grand and bottle looked fancy, I decided to go for it. It tasted quite good with hot water, honey and few drops of lemon juice (I had to sample it first before using it in the cake 😊).

Brandy soaked fruits

Next step dry fruits. I ordered raisins, broken cashews, walnuts and cherries online. I had some fruit candies (tuty fruity) lying at home. I chopped the cherries, crushed the walnuts and cashews, put raisins, tuty fruity and all the other dried fruits in a flat bowl and soaked them in brandy, just enough to lightly soak the fruit. I also added a heaped spoon full of apricot jam to the mixture. When I opened the lid of the bowl next morning, I found the dizzy fruits nicely soaked in brandy. I added a little more brandy to the fruits that evening and let it rest. The dry fruits should be left in liquor ideally for a week, I could manage only five days. Each evening I would check the fruits eagerly as they were swelling up in warm brandy happiness.

Though I came across many recipes, where they just simmer the dry fruits with booze, butter and sugar, pre-soaking the fruits for 5 to 7 days or more gives a better flavor.

On D day, Sunday the 22nd I embarked upon the task of baking Christmas cakes. I was little nervous, but the end result was quite satisfying. Here’s how I baked my Christmas cake…

Oven ready batter
  • Steps
  • Chop all the dry fruits and soak them in brandy or rum. Mix a heaped spoon apricot jam to it. Leave it for a week or more. Add some more after a few days as the fruits will soak up the booze.
  • Preheat the oven to gas mark 2/150°C/130°C Fan/300°F). Line the sides and bottom of a deep round cake tin with a double layer of greaseproof paper (parchment paper) or foil paper. The greaseproof should be higher than the sides of the tin. It will keep the cake from becoming too dark around the sides and top. You can use deep cake moulds as well
  • Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and the spices. Sift the mixture
  • In a saucepan add softened butter and sugar (You may want to melt the butter & sugar and allow it to cool as it’s difficult to soften butter in winter). In a separate bowl beat 3 eggs. Now, add the beaten eggs to butter & sugar and beat till fluffy. Fold in soaked dry fruits and flour. Add lemon juice and honey.
  • Pour the fruit cake mixture very carefully into the prepared cake tin or cake moulds.
  • Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour 10 mins, by which time the top of the cake should be firm and dry and will have cracked a little. If you insert a cake tester into the middle of the cake it will still come out a little sticky.
  • Put the cake on a cooling rack Unmould it from the tin and wrap the cake well in a layer of greaseproof paper and then foil
  • You can store the cake for a couple of months well wrapped and in a cool dark place. If you want more boozy flavour you can feed the cake with 3 tablespoons more brandy/rum as soon as it gets out of the oven. Just pierce the top of the cake several times with a fine skewer, spoon over the rum and let it sink in.

The cake was quite a hit and there was complete Christmas spirit in the office. Abhishek baked red velvet muffins whole Manaswi surprised us with chocolate muffins.

Abhishek & Manaswi with red velvet & chocolate muffin

The Jacket Story

Me and my love for winters – the food, the soft sunlight, the fog, lazy afternoons munching on peanuts, snuggling in the blanket, I love everything about winters. And jackets and coats are a big part of my winter love story.

When we were young, we didn’t have too many sweaters and woollens like the kids of today. We were well provided for but there were no excesses. Mom would knit sweaters for us as and when required. When I was eight, my aunt gave me a Kashmiri embroidered blue coat that instantly became my most favourite winter wear. The moment I got back from school I would look for that coat. A few years later she gave me a red coat that I liked even better. Both the coats were hand me downs from my older cousins, but that didn’t matter. Once I outgrew the coats they were passed on to sisters. When we were kids, we would very happily wear clothes or woollens that our older siblings or cousins would outgrow.

Chtra Shharma in a brocade jacket by SAANCHI

After school, my years in Hyderabad made me forget coats. Hyderabad wasn’t that cold and light woollens would suffice. I had to relook at my winter wardrobe when I moved to Delhi, picking up warm and fashionable jackets and coats in a limited budget was quite a challenge. Big brands were off limits. Sarojini Nagar, Janpath and Dilli Haat were favourite haunts. I remember picking up a maroon Tibetan jacket from Dilli Haat. Made from Yak wool it kept me warm through the freezing foggy Delhi winter. The temperature would hover around 5 degrees then, with no sun in sight for days. I later bought a Rajasthani quilted jacket to add variety and colour to my winter wardrobe.

Many winters in Delhi have only strengthened my bond with coats and jackets. I have built quite a collection over the years. At times I find the western coats and jackets a bit limited in terms of colours and cuts. Blacks, navys and greys do get boring after a while. My perception of jackets changed after I came across handcrafted, Indo-western and traditional jackets that can make a dull winter day so vibrant, designed so thoughtfully by Sanchita from SAANCHI. In shades of blacks, blues, yellows, purples and reds she makes formal jackets that I wear to work, woollen jackets, quilted silk embroidered jackets that can be teamed so well with an evening dress or sari.

Embroidered silk jacket by SAANCHI

“Jackets are a perfect way to spice up your attire. Every jacket defines and shapes an individual’s character. The material, the colour, the shape and embroidery reflect the essence and personality of the wearer,” says Sanchita Singh Roy, founder of the design studio SAANCHI.

“Jacket is a versatile garment that can be made from many ingredients, to suit different occasion. There are leather jackets, silk jackets, summer jackets, denim jackets, woollen jackets, flight jackets, fashion jackets, brocade jacket and bomber jackets. I generally work with wool, silk, brocade and cotton. I use embroideries, traditional prints and fabrics to give an ethnic touch to my jacket,” adds Sanchita.

An important tip from Sanchita – while purchasing a jacket do determine very precisely what sort of jacket you need, the purpose and occasions where you would be donning the jacket.

Embracing yet another New Year!

Another year nears end! Suddenly there’s a rush for year-end stories, features welcoming the new year, pondering upon what have we lost or gained this year, what we can look forward to in 2020! We are in a self-evaluation mode (albeit for a short period), weighing and measuring our lives, suddenly aware of the fleeting time, making promises, setting goals. An annual exercise that we indulge in, not sure if we gain anything out of it though. “It’s just another day! Nothing’s going to change but the date,” many nod their head disdainfully and say. But we make a huge song and dance about New Year anyway.

There is lot of enthusiasm around New Year in every culture and tradition. In India, every region has its own New Year that falls generally around April 14th or 15thNoboborsho in Bengal, Bihu in Assam, Baisakhi in Punjab or Vishu in Kerala. India being largely an agrarian society, for most regions New Year marks the beginning of a new harvest season. Good food, new clothes, and cultural performances mark the celebrations. Festivities begin early morning as we traditionally believe a new day breaks with the dawn. The business community in Bengal opens a fresh ledger every New Year, marking the beginning of a new financial year. The old ledger is closed on the last day of the year before (Bahi Khata Visarjan). Businessmen go to the temple early morning with the new ledger to seek blessings of the divine before starting afresh.

With globalization, the English New Year has gained prominence and popularity.  New Years’ eve is perhaps one of the most celebrated occasions globally. From Times Square to night clubs to our own drawing rooms people party away to usher the New Year. And the whole pressure of being with someone you love, and the midnight’s kiss. Yes, the blasted 12o’clock kiss had kept me awake, crying and red eyed on many a New Years’ eves. I cried myself into a New Year, hoping to find my ‘true love’. After all, New Years are all about hope. No matter how down in the dregs you may be, you sincerely hope and believe New Year will be better than the year gone by.

After many a New Years, the midnight kiss stopped smarting me.  I can happily attend New Year dos on my own, or just watch TV or read a book into a New Year. My loved ones could be next to me or miles away, it doesn’t matter, as long as they are there for me. Personally, I prefer being at home on New Years’ eve. It’s just too much of an effort to make it to a party with so much madness around. Snuggling in the blanket and reading a book with a glass of wine is so much better!

Despite the excesses and madness, I feel pretty good about New Years. It brings along freshness, hope, a feeling that you can start over. If you look at it logically, nothing really changes. But isn’t life all about welcoming the new, embracing the change, keeping the faith and holding on to hope that tomorrow will be better!!

So, like the American poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox, let’s bear the bittersweet burden of yet another year…

Knitting a Warm Winter Story

There was a time when nip in the air would mean bringing out the knitting needles and wools. All our sweaters would be taken out and evaluated. The ones we would have outgrown would be opened and the wool wrapped into a ball again to be used for making new sweaters. Depending on the wool available at home, mom would buy more wool and start knitting new sweaters for us. Once upon a time, my mom knit sweaters for my dad and the entire extended family. She would refer to design books for newer designs. Even weekend supplements of newspapers carried novel designs for sweaters.

My colleague Arjun, in a sweater knit by his mom, when he was 5

Afternoons were devoted to knitting. Mom would sometimes knit alone, sometimes take us to our neighbourhood jethimoni’s (aunt’s) place to knit with her. Kor jethimoni was a knitting whiz. She didn’t even need a design book to refer to. She would come up with newer designs on her own and finish a sweater in no time. My mom and many aunts from the vicinity would gather at her courtyard to knit with her. She would very happily guide them and help them with new designs.

Knitting in those days was a creative recreational activity for women. They would get together with their knitting needles, chit chat, have a cup of tea and knit one sweater after another. It seemed quite effortless then. It was a common practice to gather around a boudi (bhabi) who was an expert and would help out the rest. For instance, even 15 years back, whenever I would visit Chandigarh in winters, I would find my Kakima (chachi) sitting on the porch with her landlady, both of them knitting away. Sweaters knit by Kumkum kakima were quite popular. I still have one lying in my wardrobe. “Your kakima doesn’t know anything. Bina (the landlady) guides her at every step,” my uncle would joke.

My colleague Riti donning a muffler that i knit in school

As a little girl, I was fascinated by the whole process of knitting. I would hover around my mother the moment she would take out her knitting needles. Once I was old enough, I was given plastic needles and a small ball of wool. With some effort I picked up knitting and even made a small blue sweater for my walkie talkie doll (with my mom’s help of course). I later knit many mufflers. I would ambitiously start knitting sweaters which my mother would finish. When we were in college, readymade sweaters started flooding the market and the charm of hand knit sweaters started to fade. “You can’t make sweaters like the ones in the market,” we would tell our mom. Tired of our constant nagging mom stopped knitting and started buying us sweaters instead. Knitting needles and balls of wool were forgotten, and hand knit sweaters lay neglected in one corner of the wardrobe.

A few winters back while I was cleaning my wardrobe, a muffler that I had knitted in college dropped from the top shelf. It looked and felt so much nicer than the readymade ones. I started missing the look and the designs of the hand knit sweaters. “Can you knit me a sweater ma?” I asked my mom. “Oh! I don’t even know where the needles are lying. I haven’t used them in years. And anyway, you thought my sweaters were not good enough,” retorted mom. “I wish I hadn’t changed loyalties to readymade sweaters so soon,” I sighed. Being out of practice for years I have completely forgotten to knit. What seemed ‘not fashionable’ once, suddenly seemed so desirable.

Sweaters by Srivastava Aunty

Imagine my delight when I saw my friend Chandana’s 5-year-old son Ray in a lovely blue hand knit sweater. “Have you started knitting?”, I asked her all excited. “May be, I can ask her to make me a sweater,” I thought. “My mom-in-law does,” she said. “Till date I haven’t bought a single sweater for Ray. Mummy is so fast and finishes a sweater in no time. She has knit me one too.” Excited I called up her mom-in-law, Srivastava Aunty. She was only too thrilled to talk about her knitting. “Now Ray is growing, so he asks me make sweaters in his favorite colors,” she laughed.

Hearing me talk about my love and longing of hand knit sweaters, my friend and colleague Lovina told me about her friend Tehmina M Yadav who reaches out to her friends and family to knit every winter. Those sweaters and mufflers are then distributed to homeless people. “She’s an amazing woman,” said Lovina. “She has her own merchandising house; she keeps the most beautiful gardens. And every winter she reaches out to people to knit for the homeless.”

So knitting is not dead. Lovina still knits and has agreed to knit me a scarf!!