Despite what you might be beginning to think. I haven’t fallen through any hole and disappeared from the surface of this earth. Though, I came pretty close to just that this past weekend.
Given the hectic work pace of the past month, a fleeting thought that this might be our last chance to find some time with a young son on the threshold of adulthood (and college), and the by-now oppressive Delhi summer, we decided to steal a quick trip into the neighbouring Himalayan foothills. A few calls and we were booked for an extended weekend in the tea gardens of Palampur.
But I am not going to be able to tell you anything about the tea there. We never made it that far. We had a nasty accident just a few hours out of Delhi and are really lucky to have made it back at all! It even seemed a bit surreal after the crazy moments of the actual crash for the first few seconds of which we did not even know what was going on. There we were turned 180 degrees and looking at the giant trailer that had just fish-tailed us! Thankfully, the truck loaded with reinforcement steel wasn’t going too fast and came to a stop without dragging us too far or crushing into us further. It was all over in a matter of seconds. I looked around – all seemed okay, got out of the car and walked over to the side…. I was pretty amazed at my steady steps!
Good karma. 🙂 And another chance at A Mad Tea Party!
A silver lining of the botched trip was that I was able to be in town for a visiting friend. Shilpa was going to come over with her daughter and friends for A Mad Tea Party.
Or so she hoped. The problem was that we were all still in the vacation mode, not inclined to move the slightest bit in any direction that remotely indicated that things were back on routine-track. So late mornings over tea and paper were fine, as was sitting on the couch in front of the idiot box. No, this is not what we do on a typical holiday. In case you forgot, we did not get the holiday we had planned. This was our brain pretending that there was no office upstairs. Or, more likely, we were going through some psychological resolution stages to come to terms with what surely was some deep seated trauma of an accident that could have been much much worse and had stunned our brains into believing that a good way to pass a hot day was to sit and watch whatever there was on TV.
A non-functioning remote coupled with a possessed television set that changed channels and other controls on its own meant we couldn’t really pick. The fact that all channels were creating the same tamasha about the impending elections results meant we didn’t need to. What a relief it was eventually to see all the pundits proven wrong by the Indian electorate when the actual results started to come in!
Shilpa’s call for directions to my place finally shook me out of my inertia. I knew there could be no Mad Tea Party without food. If it ruined their dinner, so be it.
4:00 PM – I scanned the fridge and pantry. I was out of everything! Sugar. Flour. Even the crisper had only tomatoes (what can I say – I prepared well for the holiday!). In the full heat of the 4 O’clock sun I sent the son to buy these two basic ingredients which he agreed to after extracting a promise that I would not attempt to make it any healthier than it needs to be. In other words – “no whole wheat flour!”
It’s been a while since I baked a cake. Almost a year I think. And those last couple of times I have instinctively turned to search for a new recipe on the Net. As I did the same on the laptop by the couch realisation dawned that I did not really have the luxury of time to scan through dozens of recipes to come up with a list of ingredients. Shilpa and Co. were on their way and would be here in 30 minutes with the worst Sunday traffic I could hope for!
In this day of food blogs one tends to forget that there are good old tried-and-tested-and-perfected recipes we swore by before the blogs came along! There in lies the danger of actually losing some of these gems because, if you are like me, then you have never bothered to write them down anywhere. I decided to trust the sluggish brain, ditch the search, and scurry into the kitchen.
I emptied the oven and turned it on, found the cake tin and oiled and floured it. The son was back from the grocer with the flour and sugar. I was all set to at least have the kitchen smelling as expected by the time Shilpa and friends arrived!
The flour was sifted, eggs, oil, and sugar whisked till creamy, flavourings added, everything combined and poured into the prepared tin and put into the oven. Phew. 4:30 PM. Now to neaten the house some. Sorry, no time. The bell rang. They were here. Already!
Four smart looking girls had arrived and my maid hadn’t! I took them upstairs to the terrace to bide some time show off my garden and to grab a bunch of fresh spearmint. Why not quiz them about my other mint? Peppermint – sorry, no one guessed correct.
By the time we were back downstairs the maid had arrived! Yay! She put on some water for tea and helped me prep for onions bhajjias. Lucky for me, I did have enough besan! Onions and potatoes were in stock but I let the potatoes alone for once – nothing like onion pakoras. Fresh mint, hot home grown green chillies, and walnuts were whirred with some water and salt, removed to a serving dish; mixed with some yoghurt we had my Kashmiri Pudna Chatin, a tasty dip. While the maid chopped the onions I fried some of my home made potato chips. She took over the frying as I mixed the batter for the pakoras. The cake was perfuming the house, and the tea was steeping…
Yes, we had a Party!
Here is the simplest of cakes anyone can bake. If you have been afraid to attempt one, remember that, at least for this cake, a little inaccuracy in measurement is not going to ruin anything. This is the recipe I used this Sunday to turn out a very impressive looking cake. It is a recipe from memory so I doubt if I have ever made it exactly like so. In fact, I am sure I have never made it exactly like this.
And even if something should go wrong with your first attempt (which it shouldn’t if you are using fresh ingredients at room temperature), remember that I have burnt my share of cakes to get here. The oil crept into the recipe not in an attempt to make it healthier but as a substitute for the more-expensive butter – my mother used to get pretty mad at us (me and my younger sis) charring expensive ingredients. In our defense, we were struggling with the most rudimentary of those old round box ovens which did not even have temperature control when I started to bake! It was a challenge to bake a cake that was not burnt on the outside and undercooked inside!
Substituting with oil also saved us from creaming butter and sugar till our fingers fell off (I didn’t have an electric beater at the time), though butter does impart a very rich taste. If you decide to use butter make sure it is at room temperature. We eventully graduated to baking a cake in half hour with the same oven. My mom would request one every now and then to take to school for tea with her colleagues.
My Tea-time Coffee Cake
1C + 1T maida (all purpose flour)
1t baking powder
1/3 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 medium sized eggs
3/5 C oil
3/4 C granulated sugar
1 heaped T instant coffee powder (optional)
3-4 T cold milk
1t vanilla essence
1/3 C slivered almonds
Sift flour with baking powder and soda. Mix in salt. Oil a 9″ cake tin, dust with flour; tap upside down to remove excess flour. Dissolve the coffee powder in the milk.
Turn oven on to Gas Mark 6.
In a mixing bowl whisk together eggs, oil and sugar with a hand-held mixer (not a hand-blender) till the sugar has dissolved completely. This takes a few minutes because our sugar here comes in large grain size.
Add the coffee-flavoured milk, and vanilla essence. Mix till combined. Keeping the mixer on the lowest speed add in the flour. Beat till well combined. Pour into the prepared tin. Sprinkle evenly with slivered almonds. Bake in the center of the oven for 40-50 minutes or till a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool (if you have the time). Slice and serve with tea or coffee.
Sorry, no pictures this time. We were too busy partying! But I am going to bake this again soon, very soon. And if Shilpa took a picture and posts it on Flickr, I’ll be sure to link!
Edited, Jun 2019, to include pictures, finally.