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
Day 3
Swiss Meringue Buttercream Icing

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.
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.

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.

  • 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
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.

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.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Stray thoughts and something of a rant.

I woke up to something about Gloria Steinem on my Facebook feed. Gloria Steinem, famous feminist writer, who said girls were with Bernie because that's were the boys were. Following which Madeline Albright joined in to also wag her finger at young women who might not vote for Hillary, saying they would go to hell for not standing with a woman. Hillary Clinton- who is most certainly not standing by a lot of women by continuing to be associated with Bill Clinton- notorious harasser of women.

I want to see her stand by women like Monica Lewinsky, barely out of school when the President of the United States coerced her into being a little silly. Someone whose life has become public fodder in the worst way, and probably will be infamous till she dies. How on earth are you supposed to survive this? How are you supposed to beat off the President of the United States, arguably the most powerful person in the world? Shouldn't we be protecting young, and older women, from this kind of predator instead of parading him about for his political value. Stand alone, without him, and tell me again about your feminism. I would listen.

Today there is a massive strike across India. I am excited about this because we need to stand together and fight. We have the numbers, if only we could collect somehow and exercise them. I'm not at home, and despite the questionable ways in which nearly every union functions, I think unions are terribly important. We need checks and balances to the system. Our government can't be allowed to run away with every sector of our economy and just hand it to a small group of industrialists. Why on earth does the BJP want to privatise the railways? At least with the Congress their economic policies were outlined in terms of classical neoliberal theory. The BJP don't seem to bother with trying to rationalise anything- cows and Bharat Mata ki Jai is all. 

It also made me annoyed that so many of my Indian friends appeared to be complaining about being unable to get to work. Think a little bit about why people are striking. Join them. Show some solidarity with people less better off that you at your amazing arts collective, or great IT job. A higher minimum wage will help a lot of people out, and you want people to eventually have enough money to buy the nonsense that you are selling right? Many more were out at brunch (which is probably why Nandan Nilekani lost that election in Bangalore- people who might have voted for him seized the opportunity of the election to go on a 3 day weekend break instead). I saw pictures of people at the Oberoi, enjoying high tea, celebrating the bund; the incongruity of which might render you speechless so here I am to point the finger for you. I like high tea, and the Oberoi too, no actually I have never been at the Oberoi though I imagine it is nice, but there is a time and place.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Thoughts- some but not all related to Father's Day

It is Father's day and my Facebook feed is a stream of people putting up sepia tinted pictures of their fathers.

I cannot relate. I love my father, and I wish I could see him more often, but I am unable to channel all of this on Father's Day.

At the moment I am trying to get him to send me the phone number of my grandaunt so I can call and check on her. He is in Bangalore and I am in the U.S- the time difference matters and if he doesn't get on this within the next ten minutes or so I will have missed my window to make this call for yet another day. He is in the middle of dealing with his own mother, who has Alzheimer's and has of late been hitting the young girl we have hired to help care for her. I doubt my father can relate to the way we think of Mother's Day. Loving and caring for his mother have changed him, just as her illness has changed her.

 Every day we try to hold on a little bit more to the memory of who she used to be, so that we can handle who she has become now. Doing that hurts too, because things are so different, and we wonder how we became this way. Old age is horrible. Let no one say otherwise.

On Father's Day I think to myself, I hope I can be as present for my parents as they were for their own. I am all the way across the world, and have a decade or so to make it possible for them to live here, or convince myself that life would be better if I moved back.

What this means is that in my father's best years, and my mother's, which are now, I will be far far away. We are missing out on having fun with each other but there isn't a way in the world you could get me to move back to Bangalore at this point. I am so happy to have grown up there, but it now it makes me sad. Landing there and not being at the little airport near Indiranagar makes me sad. The long long road back to Koramangala makes me sad, as does the visible evidence of the corruption linked to the new airport. The air is impossible to breathe, and I feel the grime coating me- settling on me as I settle into the city. All the bisibelebhath and lunch thalis in the world cannot make up for the loss of the city I grew up in.

Landing in Delhi or Mumbai do not have the same effect. No matter how unbearably hot, or noisy Delhi is it will always have my heart. Delhi was ever uncomfortable- you just accept it and move on. Mumbai I have no feelings for- so landing there or not landing there have no meaning to me. Bangalore was my home, and I am having trouble accepting that it has changed so much, and become so very unlivable.