Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Apple Cake and a Happy Diwali

October and November are busy months. Being a true Bengali at heart( or at least half the heart as those who know me will insist on my ties to Bihar), I have the habit of embracing every other festival that comes my way.By "I", I do not necessarily mean the first person singular, rather it is a representative of the multitude "We", who do the same. However there is a fine print in all this embracing. The fine print clearly states to embrace only festivals that have a happy ending and does not involve any kind of physical discomfort, be it fasting or walking.

So with much joy we jump from Durga Pujo to Lokkhi Pujo to Halloween and then take a short break to sort through and upload Durga Pujo selfies, after which we march into Kali Pujo followed immediately by Diwali and Bhai Phota ending it with a Thanksgiving Turkey only to celebrate Christmas again in 3 weeks.

Since Thanksgiving or Halloween was not part of my childhood and Christmas was kind of like a watered poach on a soft winter day, Kali Pujo and Diwali marked the culmination of the month of joy and festivals for us. We never had a month long holiday and after the ten days Dusshera break, Diwali was a two day holiday affair. The days would be cold by Diwali and there would be dew glistening on the grass in the mornings. Dusk fell quickly in the month of Karthik and the lanes in our small town would grow quiet early in the evening with only a few people on cycle or scooters, their upper body tightly wrapped in shawls, returning home from the market or work.

Strangely it is the dusk and the quiet that I recall of Diwali. As if the Kalipotkas never existed. Diwali doesn't remind me of firecrackers, instead it reminds me of row of slim white candles their lights flickering in the light autumn breeze and the clay lamps filled with oil bravely glowing in the darkest corners of the uthon. It also reminds me of "Gharonda" -- mud doll houses and the "kuliyah-chukiyah" -- toy pots and utensils made with a shiny pink clay that was a Diwali ritual when I was still younger.

Diwali for me is all about light and clay and flickering lamps on dewy evenings. So every year, I make it a point to get the girls paint a few clay diyas. I think it would help them be a part of the festivity. And of course because it is very low hassle for me. I can just hand the girls, a bunch of clay diyas, some acrylic paint, brush and a few sheets of adhesive jewels and go take a nap. After a few hours whatever they do will turn up gorgeous and best part is usable.

  • Buy a bunch of plain clay diyas/clay lamps from your Indian grocery store
  • Wash them and set out to dry overnight
  • Next day find a nice spot for the kids to sit on the floor and paint. Put a mat to cover the area and make clean up easy.I usually spread a sleeping bag covered with a bedsheet and then put them in the washer to clean after the activity.
  • Get 3-4 bright colored acrylic paints
  • Paint the diyas
  • Let the paint on the diya dry
  • After the diyas have dried out, decorate the diya with stick-on jewels
  • You can put a tea-light candle in the diya and light it

I have been seeing this Kundan Rangoli on the internet for a long time but this year decided to let the kids do a simple version of it. I got some idea from here.
  • Get this clear Grafix plastic sheet. You can get them from Amazon.
  • Buy packs of stick-on jewels. Again good deal on Amazon.
  • Put a rangoli pattern or rangoli stencil beneath the plastic sheet.
  • Now stick the jewels on the plastic sheet according to the pattern
  • Even if the kids don't exactly follow the pattern and follow their heart this will end up sparkly and beautiful.

This is also a month of birthday in my home and while my Ma's b'day is celebrated on Kali Pujo when she usually fasts, the husband-man's birthday is on a fixed date which falls around the same time. We made a beautiful apple cake for him which was in perfect sync with the season. The cake came out really really good and I hope to bake it again soon.

Here is the Apple Cake Recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I followed the recipe closely except for some little changes here and there. I added a little butter and drizzled a little maply syrup after taking cake out of the oven. It was a delicious cake with apples going all soft and sweet, and my kitchen smelled of fall, apples, Diwali and what not.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Chocolate Narkel Naru Truffles -- in a flowchart

Durga Pujo is over. Umpteen of them. Spread over weekends, weekdays and months, there were gorgeous pics of Ma Durga and glamorous pics of her devotees all around on my Facebook feed. I could feel the festivity right here, on my laptop. We had our own share of fun too. Saptami'r anjali, Ashtami'r bhog, Nabami'r arati, we meticulously followed the traditions, draping nine yards after work on a weekday and dragging tired children with their homework folders from mandaps to mandaps.

It wasn't religion that pushed us.

We were okay with offering an evening anjali after the day's meal, circumventing the scriptures which speak of fasting. We diligently bowed our heads in front of the protima, her bright gaze penetrating our hearts, but only a moment later we stood in a line smiling at the camera urging the photographer to make us look as slim as possible. If we found that the queue for Bhog was too long and the Khichuri wasn't enticing we trooped off for a Sri Lankan meal winding it down with Singa beer.

It wasn't religion. It was tradition.A pleasure in the mere sense that we belonged even if we were many miles away. It was more precious than religion.

It is for the same reason that I did Lokkhi Pujo and made Narkel Naru soon after. And it is for this that many of my friends do the same. When the oil lamp flickers and they read "Lokkhir Panchali" in a sing song voice, they are not praying for wealth or riches, they are actually building a bridge to their beginning.

My paternal grandparents were very ritualistic when it came to religion. Lokkhi Pujo and Saraswati Pujo were done at home by my Grandfather who sat straight, sacred thread around his bare upper body, chanting mantras in crisp Sanskrit. The entire neighborhood was invited on Kojagari Lokkhi Pujo and his perfect Sanskrit diction in the smoke filled Thakur Ghor made the whole thing very mystic.

But in that Thakur Ghor, you had to fast for anjali and sit cross legged with your toes tucked under the hems of your dress. There were allowances made if you were a child but adults were held to high standards. To pick flowers for Pujo, you had to shower and change into fresh clothes. The Bhog offered to the Goddess had to be cooked in much sanctity.You weren't allowed to touch the Bhoger thala until pujo was over and you knew not to enter the Thaku Ghor if you had your periods.