Monday, 20 March 2017

Strawberry Mojito Paletas

Am sure you all read the news where the Met Department has predicted an 'above normal' summer for the year with 'moderate to severe heat wave conditions'. I don't know about you but my mind just went blank as I read the news. Anyone who knows me will tell you of my zero tolerance of the Indian Summer. And I still haven't forgotten last year's Summer. It was brutal, long, unforgiving and there was no respite till June. And to make matters worse, Winter was such a mild one this year. February, that month of blooming flowers and pleasant weather was this year, uncomfortably warm. It is not an one-off event. Freaky weather is increasingly becoming frequent. Every year is turning out as the hottest year ever recorded.

This is just wrong. We need to start thinking more seriously about changing weather patterns. About how we've allowed the green cover of our cities to deplete as they made way for concrete roads and shiny malls or let our rivers dwindle to resemble sewer drains. Of how each one of us has contributed to this mess and needs to make amends personally, however small the effort may seem. We need to make the effort to adopt solar energy for our energy needs at home and take up the responsibility to personally grow more trees. To use less plastic especially those blasted, ugly plastic bags that mar our cities and countryside. To make intelligent food choices that reflect locally grown produce because I think, we all agree, climate change is happening right now and it isn't sparing any of us.

And for any loon out there, who thinks climate change is a hoax, I ask you to come and spend the next three months in India, without any access to any kind of air conditioning or cooling comfort. And once you are done, then we will talk!

While I despaired over the coming onslaught of Summer, I found a recipe for strawberry paletas in Yossy Arefi's 'Sweeter Off The Vine'. Paletas are ice pops made from fresh fruit and Yossy's are made with strawberries and campari. I, instead, took my inspiration from a strawberry mojito. So, in went mint, lime juice and rum to flavour these ice pops. 

You can leave out the rum, if you wish, you will still enjoy them. And for those, who love their rum, don't go overboard or else these pops won't freeze. Be open to experimenting with any other fruit of your choice. And yes, I could have called them ice pops but how much more exotic does paletas sound. Makes you wanna put on a sombrero for the occasion.

The absolute juvenile pleasure of enjoying an ice pop is ever intact. You may not be able to escape Summer but for a few minutes, these have the power to help you ignore it. Summer, Be kind! 

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Orange Loaf

I admire people who pursue a creative passion alongside their regular day jobs. It's as if they have understood one of life's essential lessons that only the very fortunate few get to pursue their creative instinct as their life's work. For the rest of us, it is important that we find that passion/interest/hobby in our lives that keeps that spark of creativity alive and keeps us hungry to learn more. As long as you have that, I believe life will always continue to surprise you and keep you away from the rut of stagnancy.

I was reminded of this when I recently finished with Navtej Sarna's book, 'Second Thoughts'. Sarna is the current Indian Ambassador to the United States, who apart from being a distinguished diplomat has also traversed the journey from writing newspaper features to literary essays to poetic translations to short stories to novels. 

Something to be said of diplomats and their mastery of the written word. Of the top of my head I can think of Vikas Swarup, till recently the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson and now High Commissioner to Canada who is equally well known for his literary body of work, of which 'Q & A' remains his most well known, after it was adapted in film as 'Slumdog Millionaire'. There's Shashi Tharoor, the former UN diplomat and author of a number of widely acclaimed books including the literary masterpiece 'The Great Indian Novel' that is always on my list of personal favourites. And why, even Pablo Neruda was a diplomat!

Coming back to Sarna's book, it is a collection of essays that he's written for the 'Hindu Literary Review', over a period of seven years. His main motivation is to explore the personal lives of the authors of the books he's read, as he puts it, 'to understand the mind of the writer and the process of literary creation'. His quest leads him to Wodehouse's school to Hemingway's home in Cuba to Boris Pasternak's forgotten grave to a drink with Khushwant Singh to the cafe in Cairo where Naguib Mahfouz wrote for four decades only to find it abandoned and boarded up. There are books and authors that you have read and loved, those that you know about but haven't yet read and then, there are those to whom you are introduced to for the first time in this book. 

What makes this book is Sarna's deep love of books that shines through every page. It speaks to the book lover amongst us when he recounts that thrill of discovery in a second hand bookshop or that time he read Gone with the Wind whilst standing against a pole in a crowded 'University Special' bus. Of how there's no greater companion than a book to snuggle up to on a rainy day or after a hike in the mountains. You'll understand his lament of how the beauty, grace and nuances of a language are being lost in today's world of 140 characters and instant downloads. But most importantly, of how over the years, like old friends, the books that we have read have stood witness to the the different phases of our life.

So, between books and finding that balance in life, I baked a cake. It's a simple cake for those times when lost in a book for hours, you look up at one point, looking for something to keep you going. This cake does the job beautifully. I got the recipe for it the old-fashioned way. It comes from my sister who got it from her sister-in-law who got it from her friend and the chain ends here because I have no clue how she got it. It's an orange loaf and when I say orange, it's the whole orange - pith, pips et al. You simply put all the ingredients in a blender, whiz and you have your batter ready. Even by my standards, it doesn't get simpler than this.

And for all your grand efforts, you are rewarded with a beautiful, moist, warm hued cake that speaks of citrus and sunshine. If you are wondering about the pith and pips affecting the taste, there is a hint of bitterness in the cake but it is not at all overpowering. If anything, it balances the sweetness. 

I think you'll enjoy it as much as we did. Have a beautiful weekend!

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