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Monday, 21 January 2013

Of Childhood and Chocolate

I sit, writing in solitude
My feet under a blanket
A cup of perfect hot chocolate on my lips

The fire sizzles and crackles before me

Little sparks dancing in the dark

Outside the snowflakes fall thick and fast
Silently enveloping the world in white

My boys – my two loves – are fast asleep

And I sit
Writing in solitude
With a smile on my face

Last night I read something that touched me more than anything has in a very long time. It’s a piece by Bethany Meyer called “Up and Away He Grows” where she talks about her oldest boy informing her that she doesn’t need to sing “his” bedtime song anymore, how he’s too old for it now. And how – for her – this little declaration of adulthood is so much more than just that. It’s a rite of passage, the end of an 11-year ritual.

“Up and Away He Grows.”

And this is why I love this piece.
It’s simple and it’s straightforward and it’s from her heart.
And it tugged at mine.
Not only because her words are so lovely.
But also because there are very, very real.

I share her piece on Facebook – “for everyone with boys,” I write, "please read." Many write back, relating, agreeing, sharing their own experiences. And so, I think about her words. And those of my friends. And I try to peel away the layers to get to the core of just why this is so difficult for us – for all of us – as mothers.

And I think – but I’m still not sure – that it’s partly because they grow while we don’t.

Yes, of course we grow older – there’s more grey in our hair, those pesky lines under the eyes – but our real growing up – the definitive step changes that turn us from baby to child, and from child to adult – is all done. And this – I think – is what is so difficult. This incongruity. How we’re done growing up, and they’re only just beginning.

And so we continue to do what we’ve always done since the day they came into our lives. We sing the bedtime songs and hold our babies close and give them a billion wet kisses and speak to them in that special language that only the two of us share.

This is not learnt behaviour. It’s from the gut. Primal. instinctive.
This is what we know.
This is what we think it means to be a mother

And then – all too soon and much before we’re ready – we realise we can’t do this anymore. Any of this.
We need to change.
We need to change what we know.
We need to change what we think it means to be a mother.

And that’s huge.
And hard.
And real.

And so it hits me, this. It's what I've known all along, but it hits me now, after reading someone's story. Because it could be my story. So it hits me. How time flies. How it’s so important to make every little moment count before it’s all too late. How I need to be a child with my child, because soon – too soon – he’s going to stop being one. And with that, I’m going to need to stop too.

So I do something today that I’d never have dreamed of doing a few years ago.
Sid and I make a snowman.
We do it all wrong, making a funny pyramid-mountain for the base, instead of a round ball, so he looks more like a snowdog than a snowman but who cares!

And honestly, this might seem like no big deal to you, but to me it is. Because I hate the cold. Positively do. There is absolutely nothing appealing about being outdoors in the cold and the wet, shovelling piles of snow and making them into little balls (or mountains as it turns out). I’d rather be doing almost anything else. 

Until today.
Today, I get out into my snow-covered garden.
And I make a snowman.
Just for my baby.
Just to see his eyes light up
Just to hear him clap his hands and say “Wow! Snowman!” “Hello Snowman”

And just by doing this small, silly little thing, I surprise myself.
Because I have SO MUCH FUN.

We roll about in the snow, making snowballs and throwing them at each other, laughing and giggling like little kids.  Our little snowman (snowdog) stares back at us with his beady eyes and carrot nose. I think he wants to smile but we haven’t given him a mouth! My fingers and toes are numb from the cold, but it feels amazing.

I would do it again.
Not just for my baby, but also for me!

And as the evening light fades to dusk, we traipse back in, exhausted but happy, taking off our wellies, shaking off the snow from our gloves and coats. “Bye Snowman, Later” little Ranbir says, cheeks flushed, waving hard.  Sid picks him up and swings him around and I am amazed – yet again – at how similar they look. Those same almond-shaped eyes.

My two loves.

Before I put Ranbir to bed, I think of Ms. Meyer’s words again.
So I smell him. He stares at me with sleep-filled eyes curiously, wordlessly. I inhale long and deep, searching for that baby smell, suddenly fearful it’s gone.

But it’s not.
It’s still there.
That unbearably delightful mixture of milk and honey and applesauce.
My baby is still my baby,

I lay down on the nursery floor legs stretched out
And pick him up, out of his cot, and into my arms

I place him on my stomach.
His head fits perfectly in the nape of my neck

I can hear his quick rapid breathing
Mamma? He whispers in my ear.
“You’re my baby,” I whisper back.
“Yes.” he agrees, nodding into my neck.

He kisses me then, on the side of my neck, just below my ear where I have a little black beauty spot. The exact place that he’s got his.
They come quickly one after another – fierce, protective little kisses.
He’s feisty, this one. Just like his mamma.

I reach under his t-shirt, place my hands on his back.

His skin is soft and smooth.

I hold him like that for a long time.

I am filled with an unspeakable pleasure.
Warm and gooey.

Like perfect hot chocolate.

Here’s what you need:

- 250 ml whole milk
- 250 mil semi-skimmed milk
- 1 cup Good Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips
- 1 handful marshmallows

Here's how you do it:

Combine the whole and semi-skimmed milks in a small saucepan. Warm over medium heat, then stir in chocolate chips. Stir until melted, then plonk in a few marshmallows. Remove the pan from the heat and pour it into a large lidded flask so it’s about half-full. Screw on the lid tightly and shake well to give it froth. Pour into a mug and have a long, delicious taste.  

And hold on to the feeling!

Lots of love xx

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Delicious Dinner Lite

First things first.
And that, my friends, is that I have new found admiration for the delicate balance between time and inspiration (vis a vis writing, of course).
You see, one without the other, and the story’s ended without even having begun.  Gonzo, kaput, babye and so on.

Which is really what’s happened to me over the last couple of months. To put it in the lingo of my erstwhile life (no love lost by the way) I’ve been somewhat in the black on inspiration but hopelessly in the red, on time. Which, after deep introspection, I have come to accept, is really the lesser of the two evils. Because the other way round (aka writer’s block) (shudder) is the worst possible thing that can happen to anyone who writes. It’s a nightmare. It’s sitting in front of the computer for hours with a blank MS word doc blinking in front of you. Or worse, it's spouting a bunch of utter nonsense in your head, and then transferring it to print, all the while convincing yourself that it’s not, indeed, utter nonsense, and then realising - once having wasted many hours of your life that you will never get back -  that it isn't, in fact, anything but.  Then of course it’s race between the delete and the backspace buttons (not sure why they both exist by the way) and you’re back to the blinking MS word doc. Square 1. Etc.

So, long story short – I’ve been horribly busy. Doing horribly dull stuff I might add. Such as trying to change airline tickets et al. Which I’m sure you all know is like offering a sandwich to a brick wall. Has anyone succeeded in changing airline tickets? I mean, ever? In the history of man? If so, I certainly need a lesson or two. I’ll even pay you. I’d really rather pay you than pay them you know…

Anyway, anyway.

So this post is two months too late (and do you see how it had to be exactly two months for the above sentence to carry any meaning at all?) (I'm sure you do.) Anyway, it's all about something I ate in November, which does in fact, make it two months too late and I'd have forgotten what the blooming thing tasted like if it hadn't taste so good. But, it did. And I haven't. And so, here you go.

But before that...3 reasons why you need to try this dish, despite my inexcusable tardiness.

Reason number one: the title of this post. 
Namely: Delicious Dinner Lite.
Now, isn't that becoming?

Because, I think for the lot of us who have spent most of December in a frenzied food coma, the mere mention of the word “lite” makes the heart skip a beat.
Let's ponder upon it for just a wee second, why don't we? Tell me, my friends - how much turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberries, sweet potato, green beans, brussel sprouts, christmas pudding, pumpkin pie (God, I love pumpkin pie) and brandy butter did YOU single handedly, consume in the month of December?
Yup. That’s what I mean.
Not to mention the leftover turkey sandwiches (because we cooked too much food) (like we do every year) most of us ate till we were blue in the face?

(not, by the way, that I have anything against the Big Bird. God Bless the Big Bird. And God Bless America.)

Moving swiftly on.

Reason number two: (this gets better by the way) 
See, the word “lite” is not a good word. In fact, it's a bad word. It's even worse, actually. It's pure evil. You see, the word "lite" usually conjures up images of  insipid looking sugar free pots of yogurt, each of which is actually 1 kilo of sweetener mixed with pink coloured goo. Or packets of crunchy-ish items, which taste like nothing on earth, but are in fact meant to be a sorry excuse for real crisps. Or – this is my favourite yet – “lite” cheese. Ever tasted “lite” cheese? Don’t. You’re better off eating your mother’s rubber galoshes.

So, I hope when you read the words “delicious” and “lite” in the same sentence, you are basically, bum off your chair, poised in mid-air, in a state of electrified wonder?
Because, this, you realise, is monumental.

And now (drumroll please), my trump card.
Aha! Save the best for last.

Reason number three: Delicious Dinner Lite was invented, devised and created by none other than The Closet Gourmand.

Which pretty much guarantees that this is already likely to be one of the best meals you will eat this year. And being January and all, that's a fat prize, I know. But you know and I've said this before - TCG is, hands down and without contest, the single best cook I know. And I know a lot of good cooks.

So, without further ado, I present to you:
Delicious Dinner Lite

These are kathi rolls, my friends – the good old paratha wrapped kebabs, rolled up in wax paper, filled with nostalgia and the taste of the dusty streets of Calcutta.

For those of you new to the kathi roll – it's basically an Indian wrap. Typically, dough is kneaded long and flat, folded several times to get the famed paratha layers. (For some amateur tips on technique, please read my post, Tani's very green parathas)

That done, for the kathi roll, the paratha is cooked through on a tawa or griddle with a bit of oil. If an egg is to be added (unda paratha) it is usually cracked into the tawa and the paratha put on top of the egg; they both cook together and the paratha gets coated on one side with the egg.

Kathi Kababs - the filling inside - is usually chicken, mutton or beef chunks or - for a vegetarian version, potato or paneer - marinated in spices and cooked on skewers, traditionally over coals. When the roll is being prepared, these are taken off the skewers and tossed with onions, chillies and sauces in the tawa, before being put in a thin strip in the centre of the paratha (egg side up you are using an egg).

Embellish it how you will – a dollop of ketchup, a dash of tamarind sauce, a squeeze of lime, sometimes a shake of chaat masala, some spicy coriander/mint sauce...

...and that's the famous Kathi Roll, a delicious snack on the go, one of my all-time favourite treats and one of my most endearing memories of India, reminding me of all that is good and decent about it. A reminder I've needed much of recently.

And so, our delicious dinner lite consists of not one, but three kinds of kababs (well, well, aren’t you in for a treat?): Chicken Hariyali, Seekh and Chicken Badami, and here’s how you do the marinades:


-       Half kilo chicken thighs
-     Mint, coriander and spinach
-       Lemon
-       Salt
-       GG paste
-       The very finest of red chilli powder
-       All ground up


-       Aberdeen lean steak
-       Red onion
-       Coriander
-       GG paste
-       Green chilli
-       Garam Masala
-       Salt
-       Some “secret spices” that he wont let me in on. I tried everything, believe me. If I were a gambling person, I’d bet there was alcohol involved, but the truth is, I don’t quite know. Sorry!!
-       All ground up


-       Half kilo chicken thighs
-       Half cup ground almonds
-       0.5 cup double cream
-       0.5 cup besan (ground chickpea flour)
-       0.5 cup white onions
-       Salt and pepper
-       All ground up

Now I get that the quantities here range from vague (best case) to non-existent (base case). But as I said, this is coming from one of the finest cooks of our times. So. Um. Tough.
We take what we get.
Such is the essence of life.

Marinate for a few hours or overnight.
Oven it
Wrap it
Eat it