Tomorrow is Anu's birthday. Anu, her first born. It has been 8 years since that snowy day in Boston.The snow had been heavy that day, almost 4 inches had accumulated by noon. Her doctor, Dr.Richardson, could make it only 3 hours after the scheduled time of her C-section. Three whole hours after the time her Mother-in-law had deemed the most auspicious.
It didn't matter though. Nothing did except that a baby was arriving in their life that day, albeit three hours late.
She started taking out the flour, the eggs, the butter to melt, the brown sugar
When the Doctor finally congratulated and the nurse brought the wailing baby wrapped in a white hospital blanket with blue borders all she had felt was relief, a culmination of the journey she and her husband had undertaken over the years. Yes, that is what it was, relieved, tired and nauseous is what she had felt even later in that bright wallpapered room. When had the love come in, the worry, the protectiveness, the eagerness to change a diaper, wipe a snot, the enthusiasm to drive to a swim class and then the ballet ? She wasn't sure, they had just crept in as she folded the laundry, she guessed.
She took out Anu's favorite chocolate sprinkles and the Hershey Cocoa Powder
"Rrrrrrring", the phone went, in the monotonous tone, jolting her out of her reverie. She ignored it, thinking of the pile of work needed to be done before her husband and daughter came back from the piano class.
The sugar goes into the melted butter, mixed to be together
The phone went "Rrrrrrrrring" again. It was Ma, she was sure. Even after a decade Ma could never keep track of the time difference between the far east and west. She must be calling to wish Anu a day early. If told she would say, "Aaajkei to unish, ekhankar hisebe or jomnodin hoye geche" (Today is the 19th here, it is already her birth date in my part of the world")
Two eggs into the wet mix. A tsp of vanilla for the sweet smell
"Hello AnuMoni, aaj tomar jonmodin (Hello Anu Moni, today is your Birthday)", Ma said, without even waiting to hear the voice on the other end.
"This is me Ma, Anu is out and it is not even her birthday today, not until tomorrow", she said.
"Amader ekhane unish hoye geche (It is already the 19th here)", Ma continued, obstinacy and hurt in her voice. Ma had wanted to be there, to welcome her first granddaughter 8 years ago. But the straw haired, pale faced officer at the US Consulate in Kolkata thought otherwise. He refused Ma a visa. One stamp and a grandmother was denied the happiness of being united with her first grandchild.Ma still carried that grievance and some more.
The Flour, the coccoa powder, the baking powder and a pinch of salt. Dry into wet
"Paayesh ta baniye rekhechis? Kal to ar shomoy pabi na"(Did you make the Paayesh, you won't get time tomorrow), Ma asked.
"You know Anu doesn't even like Paayesh. What is the point ? I am sending cupcakes for her school tomorrow and at home I will make some chocolate brownies", she said
"Jonmodin e ektu paayesh banabi na. Paayesh ta shubho ( Paayesh brings good luck. Won't you make even a little on her birthday)", she could imagine her Ma sitting by the black telephone, a cup of tea in hand, her brows furrowed while the maid swept around the morning dust with a broom. Her Ma trying to send across good wishes over the oceans, trying to maintain the age old traditions, she steadfastly refused.
"Dekhbo (I will see)", she said. She didn't want to argue any more. There was no time really. She wouldn't make the paayesh, she didn't have hours to stir and thicken milk, to make a dessert her daughter would not even touch.
Mix till each component loses its own identity to be one
Busily she started taking out the flour, the eggs, the butter to melt, the Hershey cocoa powder. This was an easy recipe, the brownies would be in the oven by the time Anu was back.
She melted the butter and added the fine sugar, stirring with a steady hand, willing the sugar to dissolve.
She cranked up the oven to 350F. Greased and floured an 8 inch square pan and lined with butter paper. Poured the batter into the baking dish, smoothing out the top. Slivers of almonds placed gingerly on the surface would look lovely but Anu hated almonds
On her birthday and Dada's, Ma would be up early, very early. The Milkman would be there early too. Ma would have told him to get an extra liter of milk, with a special request to keep it water free because paayesh had to be made, there was a birthday to be celebrated. The maid would have scrubbed and washed the deep bottomed brass pot, the day before. It would be on the stove, gleaming as it caught first rays of the morning sun.
The brownies baked in preheated oven for 30 minutes.
Ma would pour out the pristine white milk, still warm, into the pot. A few tej pata and fragrant whole green cardamom would be thrown in. And then Ma would stir and stir, careful so that the milk did not boil over, careful so as to not scald the bottom of the pan. She wouldn't utter a word as she did so. For this was sacred, the paayesh would be first offered to the Gods, requesting blessing for the birthday child from the unknown.
As the milk thickened, she would put in a handful of gobindo bhog chaal, the short grained rice, smeared in ghee. The rice spread its fragrance as it cooked. Everything else in the house would stop that morning. Baba did not get his tea, breakfast got delayed and the maid was asked to come back later as the paayesh simmered on the stove and Ma stood watchful over it.
It would take more than an hour for the payyesh to come to the right thickness. And then Ma would take it off the heat and add the patali, the khejur gur, fresh and deep brown if it was dada's birthday in winter. The whole house would be infused with that rich, sweet smell, that reminded you of cold winter mornings and dew drops clinging on to the leaves. The thick paayesh studded with golden raisins would be kept in the Puja room till the Gods had their fill. And then Ma would bring in bowlfuls for her and Dada in silver bowls, scalloped along the edges, saved for special occasions.
She never liked Paayesh, she didn't like anything sweet, she would refuse to have more than a spoonful of that dedicated love. Dada would gorge on it.
Suddenly she craved some of her Ma's paayesh, bowlful of sweet creamy paayesh with plump golden raisins made perfect with time. The warm, chocolate smell of the brownie did nothing to satisfy that craving.Sighing she took out the milk and last of her patali from the refrigerator. Maybe two decades later, Anu would crave paayesh some day. Till then she would just keep the house smelling fragrant on this special winter evening.The blessings from her forefathers would pass on.
This is a part of my Food Fiction series. Anu is not my daughter, it is NOT my daughter's birthday, this IS fiction. It might seem strange but it is the simplest food that has all the fiction entwined around it. This post goes to Of Chalks and Chopsticks -- 2nd Edition an event started by Aqua and this time hosted by Me. What is your Food Story ? I won't be doing round up until Sunday, so if you are running late, send me your entry, I am waiting.
Here is the recipe for Khejur Gur er Paayesh
Here is Paayesh with Sugar
Today's dark, decadent, delicious chocolate brownies are from Sailu's Kitchen. Thanks Sailaja.
BS, deserves a special mention for this one, since she not only helped me bake, she also helped me take the pictures. We baked yesterday night and since I have no night time lighting equipment, BS held a flashlight, so that I could take my pics.
What You Need
All Purpose Flour ~ 1/2 cup
Unsweetened Cocoa Powder ~ 1/3 cup
Baking Powder ~ 1/4 tsp
Salt ~ 1/4 tsp or a pinch
Butter ~ 1/2 cup i.e. 1 stick
Brown sugar ~ 1/2 cup
Regular Fine Sugar ~ 1/2 cup
Eggs ~ 2
Vanilla extract ~ 1 tsp
Milk ~ 2 tsp(if needed)
How I Did It
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour an 8 inch square pan and line with butter paper. I placed an aluminum foil inside my square pan and greased it.
Put butter in a microwave safe bowl and zap it for a minute so that it softens. Stir in the sugar. Mix with a whisk for 2-3 minutes.
Whisk in eggs, one after the other and add the vanilla essence. Beat with whisk or hand mixer.
Add the dry ingreds i.e. cocoa, flour, salt and baking powder into the wet mix until no trace of flour is left. Mix using a spatula. I had to add 2 tsp of milk at this point as my batter was very thick.
Spread batter into prepared pan. Smooth out the top. Add the chocolate sprinkles if you want.
Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Do not overcook. After 25-30 mins, put in a knife to see if the brownies are done.
Cool on a wire rack. Cut into squares at room temperature and serve with cold ice cream. Store in an airtight container. Warm while serving.