Potlucky!

Folks say this has been the wettest start to summer in 10 years!

Potluck teas, lunches or dinners do happen in India, but they aren’t that common, surfacing only when the crowd is a lot and the hostess’ energy is running low. More importantly, not many hosts would think of ‘troubling’ their guests to bring lunch along. It’s an Indian thing.

Which is why I was absolutely charmed to attend one today, held at a lovely house south of Brisbane belonging to a friend of Melroy’s. We carried along the icky-sounding Chocky Spiders as our contribution to the lunch.

It was my very first proper Christmas lunch over here and the company was as charming and comforting as the setting. I must confess, I have been longing to peek inside a proper Australian home. If I knew I was stepping into one today beforehand, it would have taken away the lovely surprise.

While the house and the lunch proceedings were different from the gatherings we have back home, the warmth and stories and food held the same taste and feel of love.

 

If such was the start to our Christmas season out here in Australia, then I’m looking forward to many more warm gatherings like these! Whether away from family or with, a summer Christmas is a cheery Christmas, no?

Mmm… Marzipan!

For as long as I can remember, cooking marzipan has always been a woman thing. When Nana was alive and mobile, she would gather my sister and me around the dining table and make us help her and our mum out with the Christmas sweets. Kal-Kals had to be curled up a particular way, stuffing for the nevris had to have the right ratio of ingredients and stirring the cashew paste for marzipan was a shared activity.

A platter of traditional East Indian Christmas sweetmeats is a wonderful sight. Kal-Kals, Nevries, Dahl sweet, Coconut burfis, Coconut canapés, date pudding/cake, Jejubs, Fruit cake, Milk cream, Marzipan, Date rolls, Butterfly wafers, etc. are just a few that find their way into houses and bellies at Christmas-time. Back then, Christmas was when the women of the family came together and shared cooking tips with the younger girls. Us young ‘uns for that matter, loved being around vessels that had to be licked clean, so it was a great deal everything said and done.

Which is why when I made marzipan yesterday, I couldn’t help but feel a bit teary over how odd it felt to be making it by myself. It was the first time for me but surprisingly, it turned out quite delicious in the end.

Most cultures make home-made marzipan using almonds, but a small chunk like us East Indians make it using cashew nuts. Even if both are primarily dried fruits, there is a vast difference in taste. Marzipan made of cashews is far richer and involves lesser ingredients than marzipan made out of almonds.

I’m not very sure about the cooking process though. Considering the amount of patience and energy required to make marzipan the East Indian way, I wouldn’t be surprised if the other type involves an equal amount.

When I set out to make marzipan here in my Australian home, I had a major problem. No molds and no Crawford Market or Vasai Bazaar at hand to procure them. Trusty rubber molds with assorted shapes like sea-shells, fruits, flowers and geometric ones are a staple in every Christian house-hold in Bombay and are available in stores in areas with a strong Christian presence. They are not very expensive either.

I expected to find similar cooking accessories out here, but no go. You would think in a country filled with Master Chef fangirls and women who seem to be aces at nearly everything they cook, you would at least find a decent marzipan mold. Sigh.

All I came across were some wacky Christmassy ice trays and jelly molds in David Jones and the local supermarket. The sales ladies advised me that the consistency of marzipan may not be suitable for the molds they had available. However, if you are of a mind to order some gorgeous molds online, then head to Baking Pleasures and if you happen to be in Mumbai, do make a trip to Crawford Market.

No molds and my own two hands resulted in me falling on the backup plan – creating whimsy marzipan shapes! Believe you me, this is as fun as mucking about with Play-Doh.

The internet is the frantic cook’s emergency kitchen and I found some terrific inspiration lurking in the most unlikeliest places. Take for instance, the eight-year-old genius who taught me how to make calla lilies and roses from marzipan and some more floral inspiration from a girl who seemed to have a lot of patience with edible flowers.

Cake Journal was another brilliant place where I came across a delicious recipe for marzipan bombs / balls (à la rum balls) and a handy tute on crafting wee little roses. Nonetheless, these paled in front of the stupendous recreation of Hagrid’s hut complete with a Hippogryph that I stumbled across on Gingerbread House Heaven! Inspiration for marzipan begins and ends there, I say!

Being a novice at marzipan makes you realign your designs and ambitions though and so I started with button-faced snowmen, some curiously warm snowmen and a few portly penguins. I gave a miss to the traditional marzipan sea-shells East Indians are notorious for making as well as the tried and boring marzipan fruits and flora. Cakeology had some scrumptious-looking marzipan cakes, but I have bookmarked them for future dexterity with marzipan. Mr. Hanky Poo too has been quietly bookmarked for a potential prank *wink*.

East Indian marzipan is a bit tricky to make. This will be surprising to some people, especially if I mention that all I used to make marzipan were ground cashews, rose-water, egg whites and sugar.

The hard bits are:

Making sure the cashews are ground not too coarse and not too fine. Apparently, the finer you grind them, the more oil they secrete.

Ensuring your stirring arm and back are up to the hour-long stirring session. Or simply have a mischievous elf or two around to share the burden.

Ensuring you have the consistency of the cooked dough just right.

Having nerves of steel when it’s time to knead the scalding hot dough. A colourful vocabulary has been known to alleviate the pain involved in this step as well.

 

Working on my own, I began with the preparation process at 2:00 pm and completed the shapes at 8:30 pm. However, I had a lot of marzipan (I used 500 gms of cashews – 150-200 gms is generally enough) to play around with, so the entire deal depends on how much you plan on making and how many people you have at hand to help you.

Trust me, it’s fun and infinitely better if you have company. However, classic Christmas carols and a fertile mind have been known to take people to experimental marzipan heaven as well.

At the end of my marzipan-making session, I had:

A monumental ache in my back.

An army of utterly bewitching penguins and snowmen.

A very, very dashing gendarme.

A grin as wide as Giriz talav.

Two very thrilled and happy men.

Extremely proud parents.

Hearty adulation from my peers.

S.A.T.I.S.F.A.C.T.I.O.N.

Oh yeah, marzipan sessions are fun alright. Ping me if you need the recipe. I charge photographs of your result and an exciting account of all the fun YOU have making ’em!

P.S: You can find the recipe for the Marzipan I made on my food blog, Fritters & Foogyas.

Got Hitched, Hooked and so very Married!

January the 9th came and went in such a blur that Mel & I are still periodically *ahem* pinching ourselves just to check our married status.

Emulating the centrepiece Shawn Lewis made us

Every one who attended the Pereira-Almeida wedding exclaimed over how smooth it went, how perfectly planned it seemed to be and how wonderful both the receptions turned out to be. Every time I hear exclamations like these, I mentally cross myself/touch wood/offer up an Hallelujah.

Why? Because a bride who has been planning her wedding a year in advance knows no respite from stress. Take it as a skewed ‘Confuscious Says’, but there’s the truth for you!

Take the nuptial mass for instance. It was to be a bilingual mass with a majority of the celebration in English and the rest in Marathi. Everything fell into place 20 minutes before I had to join Melroy at the church.

The last offering (a house of thermocol that we simply couldn’t obtain at the last minute) and the gospel readings and the people to do the various readings and the person to organize all of this (Val) were all minute decisions that had me nearly hyperventilating right until the offertory got over.

I even had Mel bemused by my slightly crazed expression during mass!

The nuptial mass went beautifully nonetheless and the choir exceeded my expectations, which is something.

Then came the wedding car fiasco. An open top jeepney was what Mel & I had decided for a wedding car. It was to arrive on the wedding morning all sparkling clean and polished black.

It arrived in the afternoon, all muddy and looking anything but impressive. The ever-dependable Rosalyn assisted by Gursimran and Joel managed to transform the backup car (a purple Honda Civic) into a gorgeous wedding car 10 minutes before Mel and I had to leave for the reception venue!

But I must stop with the nerve-wracking things that went on during those few days. Simply thinking about them is enough to make me break into a cold sweat.

What matters is our families were with us. What matters is friends who stood by us. What matters is the bonds that were strengthened. What matters is the love that enveloped both the wedding houses in a warm caccoon for those few days and thereafter.

What matters is Mel & I got hitched. Finally. With all our flaws and thorns and ups and downs and yucks nd aarrghs, marry we did. And how!

For all of you who made it for the wedding and made it a night to remember and savor forever, thank you!

For all of you who couldn’t make it for whatever reasons, we missed you tremendously!

For all of you who I missed inviting, I’m truly sorry and hopefully by the time the next big celebration comes our way, we shall be able to enjoy your company.

Thank you for being such fantastic friends!

Mamma Mia! I got the ‘Giving Away’ Song.

What do you when you come across a movie that gives you a delightful glow all over and makes you grin from start to finish?

Well, you go right ahead and grin with complete and utter abandon and savor the warm buttery feeling. That’s what you do.

You enjoy it without a thought for anything else going around you or for anyone around you for that matter.

That’s what I did while watching Mamma Mia. Grinned like a loon and lost myself in some welcome nostalgia. Dancing Queen, Mamma Mia, Honey Honey, Chiquitita… these were songs that colored many a picnic and school performance for me. Add a wedding theme to the entire package and I was done for. mamma_mia_poster

To find a movie that has me enthralled from start to end is a rare thing. Unless I am watching it in a movie theatre, it is difficult to peg me down to the seat for most films. Which is why I think I ought to count this one as special.

Abba has been around for a long time now and all through my growing years, uncles, aunts and cousins would somehow resurrect a Dancing Queen or Voulez-Vous at some get-together or another (on tape or with conky singing).

A lot of pyjama parties in college got jiggied up with Take a Chance on Me, Mamma Mia et al and my best friends would string along a ditty or two quite sensationally, mind you.

I am quite sure they will end up doing the same for the bachelorette party as well. Incidentally, the hen party Sophie’s friends throw her in the film make me relish the thought of my own and rub my hands in anticipation.

Another thing I ought to be thanking the film for is for finally giving me the father and daughter dance song- the ‘Giving Away’ song as we Bombay Catholics like to put it. Counted as one of the main dances the bride has to dance to during the reception, the father-daughter dance is special, signalling the final farewell a dad can bid for his little girl (the mom has her chance when she bids the bride from the childhood home).

I have watched this particular dance a number of times at a number of weddings and as my own looms closer, I know it will be every bit as special for me as I had always envisioned it to be. My dad is no great dancer and neither can he swing me around like a fine gentleman.

But like every other father of the bride, I do know that he will want to Freeze the Picture and remember me as the little, sniffling ragamuffin he bid his first goodbye to when I went off to school for the first time. I hated every second that was spent slicking my boy-cut hair down and every gleam of my new shoes that morning. He still managed to click a photograph of me though and everytime I look at it now, I grin.

This time, it is not school I shall be leaving the home for, but to a new life. It is the great unknown, sure; but this time, I shall have years of love and advice and all the freedom he dusted the growing years of my life with.

For that, I am forever greatful.

The picture may not be frozen, but my goodbye shall hardly be graced with an absent-minded smile.

P.S: Incidentally, if you thought this was a review of the movie, I am sorry to disappoint. It’s what the movie made me feel and what it made me think of with regards to my own wedding. That’s what this blog is about in the end. So I am glad you understand and even gladder you stuck on so far to the Plan “W”.