Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Top of the Lake- Season 2: A Few Thoughts

I just watched the second season of Top of the Lake and loved it.

One review I found online said that Jane Campion's 'signposting of feminist issues' was 'heavy-handed'. I found it to be no such thing. If one tv series is able to centre the bodies of women and their experiences it's but a drop in the ocean of paeans to the resilience and wonder of the male form.

Things I did find to be true about Top of the Lake.

1. Elizabeth Moss is spectacular. And her chemistry with Gwendolyn Christie is off the charts.  Christie's character was written with a great deal of care. I suppose it must ever be a subject of discussion how large her body is, and this show dealt with that extremely well.

2. On the subject of motherhood- in a show with several mothers talking about motherhood, and grappling with it, it is the fathers that do a stellar job, and keep the house together. Pyke seemed something of a fantasy to me. Look I didn't even look up the actor's name, because this character is a unicorn. We all want him. Or someone like him. The coroner, too, to a lesser degree: the safe dad figure, who offers comfort and snacks. In this show it is the men who always bring the food.

3. Puss. For anyone who has been with an older man, this relationship is the thing your mother agonized about. The lure of an older individual who wields authority is something I imagine many of us have felt, and Campion takes it to its brutal ugly extreme in the relationship between Mary and Puss.

4. This show has some great action scenes. There's one in the middle, with Moss fighting, where I found myself roaring alongside her. It is a violent show, but most of the physical violence remains off screen.

5. Talking about race and inequality appears to be the reserve of the villains, or the misguided on the show. I'm still thinking this through. The obviously horrendous power dynamic between S. Asian women, and their white male and female Australian exploiters wasn't picked apart with as much care as the relationships between parents and children, and male and female sexual partners. In a show with a lot of carefully treated women the brown women were still ciphers for white desire. Given that Campion was able to do so very much more with her women than most, it would have been nice to see her do as well by the brown folk in her writing as well.




Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Book of Gold Leaves and a small rant

I just finished reading Mirza Waheed's The Book of Gold Leaves (no points for a forgettable, pointless title).

I read The Collaborator earlier in the year and thought it was lovely. This was also. I spent four days in Srinagar one summer some years ago, and I wished it could have been longer. I also spent a couple of days in Kargil. Just enough to have developed a taste for Tabak Maas (ribs), not long enough to have made friends or gotten to know the place.

The odd review had white women, reading this as art of a book club, no doubt, complaining that there wasn't enough explanation of the context, or that the names were all too similar for them to keep track. I didn't think either of these were pertinent. 1. Use Google. 2. Literally every second white person is named Jack or John or Jason. Somehow the rest of the world is managing to keep up. Don't be so fucking lazy. As if anyone really uses that gigantic list of names at the beginning of War and Peace. You blunder through until you learn who is who, or you give up half way and miss out on one of the loveliest books written.

There were just enough references to food in The Book of Gold Leaves to keep me hooked. It was a very moving description of people trying to live their lives in a really complicated situation. I want to find more books set in Kashmir, and a decent history of the area. I hope I can go back some time, and travel more in the region. The Himalayas are really incredibly beautiful. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

That Thing You Do

Someone reminded me on Twitter that That Thing you Do is 21 years old today.

When I was in the 7th std my best friend at the time had a sleepover to which the entire class was invited. Of the 25 people maybe 15 showed up. Her older brother disappeared into his room to avoid us, too impossibly cool to hang out. Her mum ordered in pizza- it might have been U.S Pizza, Dominos wasn't there then, and Pizza Hut hadn't reached Koramangala yet either. She put out biscuits and and Pepsi and left us to ourselves for a bit.

After we had eaten she moved us to their drawing room and put on a tape of That Thing You Do. Most of us were going to sleep in that room, and mattresses were on the floor. I remember sitting in front of a not very big screen, falling asleep on the shoulder of a boy, A, who had just joined the school that year, thinking being next to him was rather nice. My other best friend V was on the other side, he was sweet on N, our host. This did not keep us from all being really close. V drowned in the school lake a year after high school finished. He hadn't liked college much and returned to school often, taking up all kinds of conservation projects. Such a waste. We're not a very close-knit batch but we all miss him. I miss him.

I still see A occasionally. He's done a drug too many and is mostly unreachable at this point- no trace of the rather sweet boy who joined our class in middle school. He's still usually the tallest person in the room, and rather the most attractive.

N moved to the U.S. after the 10th standard. Her father had died some years before and her mother wanted to set up somewhere new. We met last year, after 15 years. Her American husband and my American husband were also there. It was very nice.




Friday, November 25, 2016

Butter Pecan Layer Cake

For Thanksgiving I decided to make a Pecan Pie, but then I found this recipe online, and decided to make a Butter Pecan cake. The original recipe is here- I've made a few changes, and I split the work over three days, so here is my version. It is the most elaborate, and definitely the tastiest cake I've made in a long time. It ages well. One day after being assembled it still tastes great. 

The plan below is how I should have broken the work up. What I did was make the icing and cake the second day, and assemble on the third. The icing suffers a little from being refrigerated- you might have to beat it a second time to bring the texture back, and this is a nuisance. It was still delicious, but I wouldn't make the icing a day ahead again. This is also the most time and labour intensive step.

Day 1
Brown Butter
Bourbon Caramel Sauce
Day 2
Cake
Day 3
Swiss Meringue Buttercream Icing
Assembly



Best Butter Pecan Layer Cake. 
12 generous slices, 16 reasonable slices.

Day 1:
Brown Butter
4 sticks of unsalted butter (each stick is 8 tbsp)

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over low-medium heat. Stir frequently with a silicon spatula. The butter will foam quite a bit. Scrape the sides and bottom, as you stir, to keep the butter browning evenly. It took me about 25 min of near constant stirring to have the butter change colour.
As turns brown pour the butter out, along with all the milk solids, into a heatproof dish. I put it into a glass jar with a wide mouth. Let it cool a bit and put it into the fridge for later use.
Put the butter out about an hour before you start making the cake or the icing- it will need time to come to room temp before it can be used.

Bourbon Caramel Sauce
1 cup white granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tbsp bourbon
1 pinch of salt

Put the sugar and water in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Gently swirl the pan to combine- do not stir. Crystals might form on the sides. Ignore them.
Simmer till the mix turns brown- took me about 25 min at medium-low heat. It burns easily, so will need constant vigilance at this stage.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter- make sure the butter is not too cold or the mix will seize.
Add the cream and stir.
Add the bourbon and the salt.
Put the pan back on the heat and simmer for a few minutes while stirring.
My caramel was full of lumps so I had to strain it into a jar- after this is both looked and tasted great. Set this aside to cool, then refrigerate.



Day 2: Brown Butter Pecan Cake
3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups finely chopped pecans
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 of the brown butter, softened
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
2 egg yolks (keep the whites)
3 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup buttermilk (1 1/4 cup 2% milk with 2 tsp of vinegar left to sit for about 10 min)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Melt the 3 tbsp of butter in a pan or skillet at medium heat. Add the chopped pecans (2 cups).
Stir frequently, till browned. Took me about 7 min.
Take them off the heat, and set aside for adding to the batter later.
Butter 3 8-inch cake tins, line with parchment paper, butter the paper, dust with flour and set aside. I suspect 2 9-inch tins would also work well, and result in a cake that is easier to cut, though less impressive to look at.
Make the buttermilk, if not using store bought, by putting vinegar into 2% milk and setting this aside for some minutes before use.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
Use an electric stand mixer with the paddle attachment to combine the brown butter, oil, white sugar and brown sugar till pale and smooth (about 7 min). Mix in the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, adding the vanilla with the last egg.
Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix on low speed just until combined, then add in 1/2 of the buttermilk and mix just until combined. Repeat alternating flour and buttermilk, ending with the final 1/3 of the flour.
Fold in the pecans till evenly mixed through.
Divide batter evenly among the 3 prepared baking pans.
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. It took me 32 min.
Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack while in the pan.
Run a knife around edges of the pans to ensure the cakes are loosened, and invert them onto the racks to cool completely.
When the cakes are cool level the tops. I had to do this for just one of them- the other two came out pretty flat.
If making the cakes some time or days before assembling them, brush them with 2 tbsp simple syrup each (1/3 cup sugar heated with 1/3 cup water till the sugar dissolves) before storing. 
I put each cake on a separate dinner plate, brushed it with syrup, and then wrapped it up in plastic for the next day. They sat out on the counter overnight and came to no harm. It was about 62F/17C in the house.



Day: 3
Brown Butter Swiss Meringue Buttercream


6 large egg whites (you can use 2 from yesterday)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (16 tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
the remaining 1/2 of the brown butter softened
3 tsp vanilla extract

Dip a paper towel in a tiny bit of vinegar and wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with this to remove any trace of grease.
Make a double boiler by placing the mixer bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. The bowl isn't supposed to touch the water but it after about 20 minutes of stirring I let the bowl get into the water a bit in an effort to speed things up.
Place the egg whites, sugars, and salt into the bowl and whisk gently but continuously. Keep whisking till the mix reaches between between 150 and 160 degrees F (took me about 35 min). I started by placing the mixing bowl on a baking rack that I arranged over the saucepan. When this seemed to be too slow I inverted a small glass bowl in the saucepan and rested the mixing bowl on that, to get closer to the boiling water.
Attach the bowl to your mixer and use the whisk attachment to whip the egg whites on high speed until thick, glossy peaks form and the bowl no longer feels warm to the touch. It will take about 5 min for the mix to look glossy, and about 15-20 min till the bowl cools.
When cool switch to the paddle attachment and reduce the speed to medium-low. Add both butters, about 2 tablespoons at a time, beating after each addition. The meringue will deflate slightly as butter is added, don’t worry. Once all the butter is added, beat until the icing is smooth and silky. This took me about 5 minutes.
Add the vanilla and beat on low just until combined.
Notes
I made the icing a day before making the cake, and had to refrigerate it. This meant that the next day I had to take the icing out a couple of hours before assembling the cake, wait for it to warm up, put it back into the mixing bowl, and beat it again to get a nice glossy look to it. It never looked as nice as it did on the first day.
I tampered with the ratio of sugar, using a quarter cup of white and 1 3/4 cups of brown. This changed the structure of the icing a bit, and made it a bit looser. It tasted great but didn't look as shiny, or hold the layers up quite as firmly as an icing with more white sugar might have done.

Assembly:
Put the first layer down on a plate or cake stand. Top with about 1/4 of the icing. Place the next layer on top and cover with another 1/4 of icing. Add the top layer and fill any gaps that there might be on the sides.
Cover the top and sides with a very thin layer of icing and put the cake in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. This crumb coat will make it easier to finish icing the cake tidily, with fewer stray crumbs.
Pull the caramel sauce out- I had to microwave mine to melt it, and then put it out in the cold to get it to a cooler temperature.
Cover the top and sides with the remaining icing, trying for as smooth a surface as possible.
Make sure the caramel is cool before you pour it over the top, or it will melt into the icing. Top the cake with the caramel sauce working outwards from the centre. It should make its way to drizzling down the sides without any help from you.
Toast 1/2 cup of whole pecans in a little butter, till brown, about 5 min, to top the cake.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Some pointers for survival.

I am going to write the South Indian girl's guide to living with a white boy (or girl? I don't know enough about living with white girls). Based purely on anecdotal evidence.

Here are a few things. 

1. They will try to put their big feet on everything- on tables you might eat off, on you, on the nice chair you do your best to keep clean. This might even be with shoes on. Or even worse their mum will do this. And to keep things pleasant you will have to swallow that shriek of outrage and gently maneuver them out of that position.Or suffer.

2. You will have to be polite when the mother of your relatively aware white boy wants to put on a safety pin in solidarity with People of Colour. I understand white people are anguished about Trump as well, and maybe everyone in your church is wearing a pin, but  church full of white people, with one token Indian named Bob is part of the problem. I will make this a while chapter- things the white mum or your white boy may say or do. How to navigate without losing your mind, the goodwill of this nice older lady, or making your white boy feel terrible for being the progeny of old white people. My take is he can't help it. Just as I cannot stop my nearly 70 yr old Indian father from saying racist things without meaning to. All I can hope for is that he doesn't vote for Modi again .

3. Food- there will be an entire chapter about food.
How to turn his endless bottles of salsa into the tamatar-pyaaz component of your sabji or chicken curry.
How not to turn purple when your nice Southern boy suggests putting a ham hock, or some sausage in with your lentils to give it some fat.
How not to cry inside when he takes your biryani, puts cheese on it, wraps it in a corn tortilla, and eats it with chipotle sauce.
How not to murder someone when they look at the paneer you made, all on your own, from glorious full fat milk, from American cows as big as Indian cars, and say "It's just like Tofu right?" NO IT BLOODY WELL ISN'T. Just like how not all white people are the same....
There will also be some ranting about pound cake and it's incomprehensible popularity.

4. You will have to train them into getting used to you stealing their towel occasionally. Actually I don't think a lot of other people do this. This is not a brown girl thing, it might just be me.
Also- housekeeping and gardening. I grew up with grandparents who were enthusiastic gardeners but I have never encountered anything like the suburban American's passion for lawn maintenance. Just seems mad. 

5. A relative that you encounter only at family gatherings, like Thanksgiving and Christmas which are coming up, might ask you if Indians pay income tax. Yes. And we have had the concept since before this country was called America. Next?


Monday, November 7, 2016

Apple cake

German apple cake- Apfelküchen

This is perfect for days on which you do not feel like shopping for specific ingredients. Chances are everything you need is already in the pantry.


Ingredients
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract (optional)
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract 
  • 2-3 apples (I used Gala), peeled, cored and cut into slices
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
Directions
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease or spray a 9" tart or cake pan. 
In a small bowl whisk the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a stand mixer, or with a handheld mixer, cream the butter and sugar till light and fluffy- about 2-3 min.
Prep the apples.
Add the eggs, one by one, and mix.
Add the vanilla extract, and almond extract if using.
Turn the mixer to low, and slowly add the dry ingredients. Mix slowly till well incorporated.
Transfer the batter to the prepped pan. It will be sticky, and will need smoothing out with a spatula.
Arrange the apples on top.
Mix the last 1/3 cup of sugar with cinnamon in a small bowl and sprinkle it on top of the apples.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, or till a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Notes
It might look as if the top is browning too fast but do not cover the top. A few dark bits are better than the whole thing going soggy.
If in doubt about whether it is done take it out after 40 min- it will continue to cook a little longer in the pan.
I'm not sure what makes this cake German but that's what the recipe said so I'll go along.

Source: Eva Bakes
Be careful if you hit that link. You'll get a great food blog but also unending Republican ads about how a vote for Clinton would be a vote against Modi's government (if only we were so lucky).





Monday, September 5, 2016

Suburban living

One of the houses down the road has sprouted a Trump yard sign in their lawn.

This is a thing Americans do. They are devoted to the growth and upkeep of grass- lawn care is rigidly enforced by most housing associations, and people will make snide remarks about your unkempt grass if you don't keep it perfectly manicured. I'm always trying to talk my white American husband into leaving our grass overgrown because who are these people to tell us how to keep our garden?? He has been too deeply programmed to feel shame over this, and cannot be talked into this tiny subversive act of letting our lawn be. I find it ridiculous that in this land where people are always banging on about freedom, social programming is so strong that the opprobrium one would face for long grass is greater than that directed at convicted rapists, or known paedophiles. 

Anyway- the Trump sign. I've walked past it every day for the last month or so, and usually our little beagle has pooped on the walk, so I'm often carrying a nicely tied plastic bag of shit. I want very much, every time I pass the sign, to leave the bag by the sign. I fear getting caught though, and I also fear that the residents of the house might bring out a gun.