Food and art!

My love for food actually started when I came across this beautiful gorgeous looking thing called “tiramisu” (and mashed potatoes too). Basically, tiramisu is made up of 4 simple ingredients (ladyfingers, espresso, eggs and mascarpone). It technically consists of repetitive layers of savoiardi (or ladyfingers as they generally call it) dipped in fresh, aromatic espresso covered with a blanket of the dense, fluffy mascarpone cheese mixed in eggs(optional). Sounds divine, right? With food and creativity coming of age, people have invented egg-free tiramisu, vegan tiramisu and what not! So, for all of you out there, go ahead and give this a try.  Although, I cannot say it will taste as amazing as the original one!

Tiramisu literally means “pick me up” and “cheer me up”. That is exactly what it did to me. The first time was quite a sensational experience. It happened a couple of years ago in Chennai and I had planned a movie with a cousin. Unaware of the whereabouts of the multiplex, my cousin stopped by a bakery which was right beside the parking lot. As we were entering, he looked at me and said “Kita, this place is amazing. Try the desserts here and you will not be disappointed.” Well, of course, I wasn’t disappointed. The place was all white and felt almost heavenly. I went to the display counter and a huge array of mouth-watering desserts were lined up. Then something caught my eye. I was obviously unaware of what a tiramisu is but being the experimental foodie, I went ahead and said, “This is what I would like to try.” Quickly, I slipped out my Blackberry (my favourite phone till date) and typed on Google: “Tiramisu”. Okay, here’s a habit that I cannot seem to get rid of. I google a lot, a hell lot! Anyway, the first thing that caught my eye while reading was “coffee”. Okay, I already love it! The waiter arrives and places it on the table no sooner than I put my phone down. Five seconds later, I’m frozen in awe. I cannot put into words what it felt like. You know that moment when you feel ecstatic, like when you fall in love? That is it! It was a glorious moment, a proper example of what the bakery’s name suggested: “Ecstasy”. I think it was a moment of pure foodgasm. And to add to this embarrassment, I actually let out a moaning sound. Then I see my cousin sitting in horror, staring at me. The waiter laughs and all I could muster was, “Um, sorry?”

 

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Thereof, my cousins would notice me ordering tiramisu whichever place I visited. Slowly, they were tempted to try and now my family is hooked on it. I remember going to college every Monday and preaching about the simplicity and elegance of “tiramisu” (like as if it was a Greek god). They would reply “Not again, Kita!”. Some would say “Even though I haven’t tasted it, you make me feel like I’m in love with it”. You all might think this is a little over the top but I really was that crazy. I was like one of those obsessed kids who loved sugar. My Instagram page was flooded with tiramisu pictures a while back. You get the gist, right? I was down-right mesmerised by it.

Now, making tiramisu might sound extremely simple but, it’s the simple things that are difficult in getting right. My first experience was a total flop. It all started with me running around the kitchen, making a mess out of everything. I started dipping the ‘savoiardi’ biscuits in espresso one by one forming the base layer. The next part is the layer of mascarpone. This was done easily. Finally, it was ready to go in the fridge and I’m looking at it like “Meh, this was easy. I’m a dessert genius”. Three not-so-fruitful hours later, I take it out to serve. End result? The biscuits were soggy, the espresso was overflowing and my mascarpone was thin and lifeless. I said to myself, “Wow, Kita. This is what overconfidence looks like”. I was disheartened because I could not get the taste right. And I felt like the kitchen maybe is not my place after all. Well, at least I can still eat it outside. And I gave up the thought of ever entering the kitchen.

A month later, I was tempted to try this whole spree again. This time, I actually got better. It was edible. Yay! And by the third time, I nailed it. It’s effortless once you understand the art of making it. I reached a point where I could make one without the help of a recipe. With time, I realised that the kitchen is actually my de-stressing zone. Without my knowledge, I would see myself cooking up something every time I had a bad day. Every experience teaches you something. In my case, learning to use the kitchen has taught me to be focused. That’s the thing about art: it can make even a 25-year old no-driving sense female to drive her brains to creativity. I think any art form requires that focus.

Not many of you know this but, I’m a Freelance Architect. The only good thing about freelance is the sound of it: fancy. The other day I was travelling to my hometown and my chatty co-passenger asked me about my job. I said, “So I’m a Freelance Architect, uncle. How about you? What do you do?” He looked at me like I was the fanciest job ever. I look back at him with confidence and gave a “yeah bro, that is me” face. To be honest, it is anything other than that! You are your own boss but, you also tend to gravitate to anything but your work.

A very wise woman once said:

“Food and Architecture go hand in hand. Both require balance, and both follow the same rule: less is more. But most importantly, both require you to present something that is hard to project: the soul.”

I have noticed some striking similarities between Food and Architecture. As in, both rely on the combination of creativity, intuition and good taste. Both signify as a basic need for survival and sustainability. In fact, there are plenty of books written specifically about this. Cooking, like architecture, exhibits itself in building it. The cook, like an architect, tries to create with the plenty of resources available to him. Even using the finest marble or the best caviar sometimes cannot guarantee the success of a dish/building. One should know the balance of ingredients/materials to construct it. And not to forget, the courage it takes to experiment and know when to use your heart over the mind! Both connect cultures and provide a common language to the larger perspective of mankind.

(Above pictures are created by a Russian architect turned baker, Dinara Kasko. Connecting architecture, design and patisserie and using the “less is more” mantra in her culinary magic)

Like architecture, food has a way of making us feel a sense of time and place. It triggers your memories and experiences. I have begun to understand why I feel so connected to these fields. Somehow, they have influenced some parts of me. Architecture has triggered my memory size and food, my body size. Heh.

I’m not a great cook. Neither am I a great architect. But I love art, and the I love the feeling it leaves behind!

So, here’s sending a little bit of love to you both, for making me who I’m today!

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Whirlwind romance

It’s been a whirlwind romance with you. I gotta say you kept me alive on most of the days. You’ve nurtured me in difficult times. We had our moments on the perfect rainy days. Our dates were what makes others jealous. A taste of you and I’m drowned in pleasure!

You keep up with my crankiness, my groginess and I keep up with your insane excited nature. What have we done to each other? Can I find someone like you in this lifetime? No! And I don’t  want to.

You give me jittery feelings at times, you make me feel nervous. The time spent with you in the late evenings keep me awake at nights.

Is this fair for you to keep me sleep-deprived? After so much loyalty, is this what I deserve, Coffee? C’mon!

My forbidden love affair

I have been keeping a secret from all of you. It’s not that I’m ashamed of it and neither is it because of my personal issues. It’s just that I’ve never had the chance to express my feelings. You see, I have a love affair. Now I call it an affair because I heard it is unconventional to have a relationship with an already stolen heart. But I cannot deny the undying love and affection I have for my beloved. His touch is warm and makes me want to hug him tighter. He is probably the only one who doesn’t complain about my over expressive face and my hyper active mind.He is soft on the inside and firm on the outside, a porous heart big enough to fill in all my emotions and a beautiful taste to linger onto. Yes, I’m talking about my cake. My vanilla cake. And here you all thought I was talking about a man. Pff! 

My previous relationship with mashed potatoes wasn’t entirely lump-free, as you all know. He was spud-tacular, no doubt about that. But time passed and I gave zero commitment to my potato. Meanwhile, I got introduced to this really gorgeous looking cake through my sister. We hit it off instantly and now here I’m, committed to my cake.

Chocolate and men are replaceable but a perfect vanilla sponge cake? Na! My sister recommended this recipe a couple of months back and let me tell you, this is all I bake now. Like literally this is all I bake now! Time and again, food has surprised me with my inner emotions. I can sense my inner soul doing backflips when I see the most luscious looking creamy batter getting ready to be enclosed in an oven.

Today will be the first time I will be making two batches of cake along with chocolate ganache(fingers crossed). I’m hoping to get it right. Wish me luck.

I have decided to share this recipe with you all because a) you will love it and b) it is awesome(duh)

A couple of things to warn you about:

  1. I have given the recipe for one 6 inch cake pan. You can multiply as required.

  2. The first rule of baking: All ingredients must be at room temperature.

  3. You can obviously get easier recipes but I swear by this one. This is the perfect cake mix I have come across in my rather avid knowledge for baking.

  4. I’m a possessive lover generally but I shall excuse you if you fall in love with this cake.

Ingredients:

  • Flour – 86.3g (if you don’t have 86.3g, this will be a complete flop. kidding! but hey, good things don’t come easy. So take the damn kitchen scale and measure it)
  • Baking powder- 3.26g
  • Salt- pinch
  • Sugar – 86.3g
  • Unsalted butter- 57.6g
  • 1 large egg
  • Vanilla extract- 1/4 tsp
  • Milk- 63ml

Preheat oven at 170-degree celsius.

Instructions:

  • Sift flour, baking powder and add the pinch of salt in one bowl(dry mix).
  • In another bowl, add your sugar and butter for creaming. Then add the egg and vanilla extract. Beat only until it incorporates. warning: do not overbeat as it can curdle. 
  • Now take the dry mix and milk and pour it in 2 to 3 intervals respectively into the egg mix. At this stage, I would suggest beating the mix less. Try mixing with your spatula just until it is incorporated.
  • And your batter is ready. Pour the batter into 6 inch round pan which should be completely greased with butter and coated with flour.
  • Bake for 35 minutes at 170 degree celsius.
  • And voila, we are done. Wait for the cake to cool down for the application of ganache.

And this is how my cake looks like now.

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For the chocolate ganache, it is a simple procedure.

Follow this ratio always; Chocolate compound: fresh cream = 2:1. Heat the cream and pour over chocolate. In case it still does not mix well, use the bain-marie method.
I was super confident that I could do this. All excited, I set my hands on the ganache bowl with devouring eyes. By now, my patience has gone and all I want to do is eat the damn cake. Despite constant warnings from my sister, I did not flatten the cake. At this point, my brain has convinced me that I have super powers and I could do anything, just about anything to achieve the perfect look. Because hey, who knows this cake better than me.

And voila, this is how my cake looks like now.

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Haha, and you thought you would see the most perfect looking thing on earth. I said I had the love for baking, I didn’t say I was perfect at it. It was tasty as f*** despite all its imperfections. Well, everything is indeed fair in love and war.
Moral of the day: Do not keep expectations and do not look for perfection in love. It might look ugly occasionally, it might disappoint you at times, it can toughen your heart by showing how beautifully broken it is, but at the end of the day, you will back for its soul. You go back not for the way it looks, but for the way it feels from inside – comforting and fulfilling.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go indulge in some love therapy.

Random realizations

I was Skyping with a good friend of mine and I was introduced to her mum. And this is how the conversation went.

Friend: Ma, this is my friend, kita. Kita, my mum.

Me: Hi aunty. How are you? 

Aunty: I’m good kita. How are you? Where are you from? 

Me: (all excited) I’m doing well, aunty. Actually, I’m from el…

Friend: She is a nomad, ma. Nomad. 

Me:  …..

Come to think of it, maybe I’m actually one. I know I have been irregular with my posts but hey, I have been travelling like crazy for the last couple of weeks. Weddings, parties, pujas, doctor appointments, you name it: I have done all that I could. I haven’t had a decent sleep in forever. But I love this nomadic life that I’m experiencing now. New places, new people, good food, what is not to love! The rush in the airports, the profound seriousness of the lonely travellers, that peace in little quaint cafes, those persuasive street vendors asking you to buy kanakabarams and mallepoolu who are so oblivious to the ticking time of their lives reminded me of the busy routine that I had been missing for quite some time. Although at times, I did crave for some solitude in this trip.

So on one of the days, I had gone to attend a perfumes & fragrance exhibit recently along with dad. It was put up in this gorgeous luxury hotel. Damn, it was architecture done right. The scaling, the mix of tradition with modernity, the ever so classic union of marbles and POP, you get the drift right? It was everything an architect would love: progressive and avant-garde. Anyway, about the exhibit, it was too much of chemistry for half a day. By lunch, I was done and exhausted. So I went downstairs searching for a café while my dad was busy attending informal meetings. As my eyes scrolled through the beauty of this hotel, I noticed a tiny chocolate boutique called ‘Fabelle’. Okay, girl. Your day is made. I walked into a gush of chocolate-scented air mixed with the fresh smell of just baked goods. I was left spellbound. Whoever thought that chocolate in this world was all about Godiva’s and Lindts, you will certainly change your mind. I’m talking about an Indian brand breaking all barriers and producing the best chocolate. This is what is called paradise! And the cute barista was the icing on the cake.

I mean the interiors were fantastic but the feel of the whole café was something else. I was involuntarily at ease. My eyes gazed towards this gorgeous looking dessert displayed on one of the counters. Sensing my eye direction, the barista proceeded towards the counter. We started engaging in a conversation about food and explaining about why the Éclair Venezuela was his in-house favourite. The dessert was a Éclair topped with a pure gold dusted chocolate crumble and beautiful drops of white chocolate cream icing. The tempered chocolate flakes just added to the perfection.

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Going to that café and ordering that dessert was the best decision I have made in the past couple of weeks. I went bonkers over it. I took a spoonful of it and to my surprise, it was a chocolate choux filled Éclair. OMG, if only food could talk. It was all gooey and creamy and gorgeous inside. To top it off, the adornment of crumble and the icing worked just well. It was the right mix of everything, like a party in my mouth. It was rich, crunchy, velvety and above all effortless in its own manner. Just like life, this dessert surprised me: simple, decadent and yet so full of flavour. I sat there, enjoying every tiny morsel of it, taking in all the beauty of it. I cannot put into words what I felt within but the moment I took my first bite, I unconsciously closed my eyes in tasting it. And when it became all about the chocolate and me, I beamed with realisation. I was alone in a café, all by myself and throwing a wide smile. I think I probably scared the cute barista who, till then, was convinced that we had an interesting talk. But who cares! It was a moment that gave me immense joy. Somewhere between all that dopamine rush and the calmness, it hit me. Sometimes it takes really simple things to make you happy. I sat there alone, without any company, enjoying myself in that intimate moment. I guess some moments are best felt than said.

Maybe I had forgotten to appreciate the small things in life. Maybe growing up, being in your 20’s, chasing towards your career, searching for meaningful relationships can occasionally leave you disheartened. We all read, send and post quotes on loving ourselves and being happy (including me) but we forget that it starts from within. Sometimes the mind registers them in the most atypical manner. Life is amusing that way. It teaches you to be content. It teaches you to stop yourself and take a break from all that haziness of life.

Pause and feel the things around you. You will be amazed by the hints life throws at you. Sometimes that could happen through a broken heart, sometimes through a rough patch, sometimes by retail therapy and sometimes just by making you sit all by yourself, alone, drowning in chocolate heaven.

I guess having a nomadic life isn’t so bad after all. Shit will keep happening but you gotta stop and eat that chocolate!

Love on a plate!

My relationships in life have evolved over the last few years: from humans to mashed potatoes.

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I love mash and it loves me back!

I have an insatiable love for mashed potato. It is true that life’s problems do get solved with a bag of crisp fried potatoes, but it was much later I realised that this steamy, hot pot of taters was a better companion than any other junk food. It sat with me in my toughest times providing comfort during my college days crisis. I like to rely on the good stuff to seal the cracks and tears of my heart. So one fine day, my sister introduced me to this heavenly goodness. Taking that first bite put an end to all my waiting and dreaming. You know that click moment when you feel much more than what you are just physically consuming? It’s about eating the right thing at the right place at the right time. We all know this feeling: like it has happened for a reason. You relate to it with a trigger of smell or when you hear or think about the place or the time, even now. What I had experienced was “synaesthesia”!

Seeing a steamy pot of mashed potatoes, all creamy and buttery glistening in the mid-afternoon sunlight entices me to a heavenly pleasure. The soft, luscious, buttery, starchy goodness with just a hint of the fragrant garlic and a dash of thyme surprises you with its warmth and wholeheartedness. The billowy, fluffy mass when combined with drippin’ home-style gravy/meat sets the perfect environment for a chilly winter evening when all you crave for is a good couch, some T.V. and a hearty wholesome meal(and wine too, duh). Just talking about this makes my mouth water and stomach rumble!

Now the key to make the perfect mash lies in patience. It may be one of the simplest dishes BUT they’re also one of the easiest to screw up. Potatoes can be quite a show stealer. Who can blame them, right? Seasoned well or not, lathered in butter or not, I’ll happily eat them – after all, I was always a carbohydrate kid. Mashed potatoes can be forgiving, and with a good masher, hot potatoes and enough butter and salt, I can say, hands down, nothing beats the taste of this big, warm bowl of potato. So i spent hours in the kitchen trying to make the best mashed delight. However, like many a love story, my relationship with it was not entirely ‘lump-free’. But, what isn’t there to like about mashed potatoes? Lump or lump-free, doesn’t matter. The dish is warm, soft, and creamy in your mouth. Comfort food at its best and perfect for anyone!

With every attempt to cook, I discovered my love for the kitchen. I was 19 when I started cooking. Up until then, I just ate. The whipping, clanking of vessels, chopping, slicing and the aromatic, delectable scent of food got me excited and energised. My sister and I would cook almost every month, mash being the most loved and prepared. The more I kept cooking, the more i began to realise that food is an intimate experience. It creates good memories, forges friendships, and makes the heart grow fonder. I began to treat my kitchen as a stress buster. If it has taught me anything, it’s this:

  1. fat is flavour
  2. respect knives (they are unforgiving)
  3. some things cannot be undone (like over seasoning or over beating)
  4. most importantly, the key to a perfect mash: BUTTER!

 

The good old masher clanging against the pot of light fluffy potatoes still remains as one of the fondest memories of my early cooking days. I loved it so much that I would eat bowl after bowl and end up lying down, feeling sick and satisfied with my mashed potato baby.

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Food and cooking had/has/will always help me in my life. It ties me to places and people, it’s kept me breathing through tough times and it provided a creative outlet when other doors were shut in my face. Food is love on a plate.

As George Bernard Shaw said,

There is no sincerer love than the love of food”