(I grew up calling the delicate ones biscuits, and the ones with chocolate and other chips in them, cookies. I still try to stick with the English I love and grew up with, though it has hybridised into the English I hear every day in the country I now call home. So sometimes it is neither here nor there. England and America may be two continents divided by a common language, but India taught me that divisions exist only as long as you let them. With that, I invite you to continue on into my biscuit-cookie meanderings. For the purpose of this post, they mean *exactly* the same thing. The title? I’m sorry but cookie monster rolls off way better than the alternative, biscuit zombie)
Christmas, it seems, is right around the corner. Can’t quite claim it crept up quietly. The subtle-as-a-hippo-in-tights signs have been everywhere since Halloween. In the past weeks, you couldn’t turn a fraction of a degree without having your senses assaulted by holiday commercialism. (Wait, did I say commercialism? I mean holiday spirit. I seem to be (un)intentionally channelling Festivus.) But then I take a deep breath and open my eyes; all you see is glimmers of hope and quiet smiles. Everyone wishes that this year will sound clear, high notes when it ends compared to those began with.
In this season of renewed hope, I thought I’d try something I don’t necessarily do, making holiday season sweets. Do I hear you gasp in shock? Hold on, before you follow it with disappointed heads shaking, allow me to explain. Every year, Diwali shows up about a month or so before the December holiday season. This is one time when I sorely miss being back in India. I go overboard trying to recreate the spirit of the festival, with the lights, and the food. This leads to an unavoidable surfeit of sweets. Setting about making them again seems impossible. But this year I decided to go for it. More importantly, I decided to make holiday cookies. This is significant for another reason. Everyone has their nemesis. Sherlock Holmes (yay! Sherlock Holmes!) had Moriarty. I have cookie-making.
It is an inevitable truth that everything that has a beginning has an end. Some enjoy heights of success, only to falter and fade away, then fall into oblivion to disappear with nary a blip. Others are lamented in their eventual passing. Then there are those whose demise brings on waves of despair, shouts of protest, flowing tributes in homage. “How can it be true?” you hear people shout! “Where are we to turn?” they ponder in sadness. These are the lucky few. Their demise sends shockwaves among their supporters. They live amongst their fans forever.
This is what happened with the closure of Gourmet magazine. Witnessing the shock and despair of its legions of fans at Conde Nast’s decision to shut down this matriarch of the published food world, I have to admit I didn’t quite get it right away. I revere books; I’ve never been much of a magazine lover, the only ones I ever subscribed to were the Architectural Review, Readers’ Digest and Archie comics (yes, the 12 year old in me never quite grew up). The hue and cry baffled me. Surely this was just a magazine meeting an untimely demise at the hands of business people? Given the tough economy so many things have gone a similar way. Cookbooks are still around, so how bad could it be?
It is that lingering kind of cold day. Many people in the States might disagree. Forty-five degrees might be welcome to most of them right now. But it is the kind of low temperature that insidiously creeps into your bones and freezes you at the core. You can’t shake it. There is a still in the air, like someone holding their breath. Everything is grey. Even my brain has hit pause. I’ve typed and deleted several opening lines to this post…there are no words that work. Instead of the usual chaos I have to sort through, there is white noise. Maybe the paranoid strains of Rockwell’s “Somebody’s watching me” aren’t helping…. **scrambling for the remote, hitting forward**….maybe Blue’s optimistic “Make it Happen” will wake up the grey matter…or Xzhibit’s oddly stentorian “Concentrate” **…flipping through the music…passing by “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and ZZ Top, slowing down at Mos Def’s “Quiet dog” and settling on Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the silence”** ...oddly appropriate, though still not helping much. It is hard to quite make sense of this mental block.
I welcome winter and this time of year, and the season hasn’t been around long enough to make me yearn for another, just for the change. So why then, this blankness? I turn and look out the window. Down on the street, wet cars are fervently scuttling home, thinking warm thoughts. Across the street, a neighbour appears at his window. He sees me and raises the mug in his hand in a cheery greeting, then turns around and switches on his Christmas lights. I wave back and switch ours on in mute response. Little pinpricks of light shine through the dusk. Suddenly, more windows light up in the buildings around and swatches of brightness spill into the rapidly darkening evening. A wind flutters the leaves on the trees like a drawn-out sigh, and in the blink of an eye, it begins to rain. A small smattering of rain drops that form a sheer veil between me and the world outside. As if by magic, the synapses begin firing again. Thoughts return to this soup, the one I want to tell you about.
*This post came up here a lee-tle late. I was a bit under the weather.*
So I know it’s Halloween and everyone is obsessed with all things scary and icky. I love the idea but I don’t do scary or icky very well. I’m hopeless. I’d be like that colleague of mine at work who tried to prank me with a wormy apple but dissolved into helpless laughter before he got four words into his prank.
I also don’t get the yucky food schtick. Gross food, for me, is sacrilege. I’m going to grow up someday to be the mom who’s a real party pooper in this regard. I cannot get behind “blood-and-guts” potatoes or “barf soup” or even “jellyworms”. No, no and no! Why go through this when you can freak a kid out simply by dishing them a bowl of spinach soup? I did once though it was not my intention. Suffice to say that my nephew runs a mile away when he sees anything green in my hands.
So believe me when I say it was not my intention to mess up the plating of this dessert that I want to tell you about today. Really it wasn’t. My attempts at emulating Pollock were ill-fated from the start, as they would be since I am in fact, a far cry from absolutely any kind of painter. Sad really, because the dessert is fabulous, easy and divinely delicious. Try not to be put off by the drowning-in-chocolate sauce scenario. The gremlins of Halloween are cackling with glee somewhere at the irony.
It’s Diwali…the festival of lights! Everywhere in India, diyas and electric lights brighten homes, turning night into day. This is a time for family and friends, festivities and merriment; wonderful food eaten next to flickering lights while enjoying shimmering and stentorian firecrackers…. an annual celebration of the triumph of light over darkness.
All these years, I’ve succumbed to the time-saving promise of the microwave pedha and quick-fix barfi. Not to take anything away from these convenient modern versions, but there is something to be said for the traditional fare, the ritual of planning your time and variety in the weeks before the festival, preparing to cook various Diwali delicacies, aside from the regular cooking of lunches and dinner. I thought I’d give this route a shot this time. I’ve been cooking for a while now. How hard could all of this be, right?