Indivisible by Two

December 22, 2008

Apparently the trend in Indian schools nowadays is to split twins into different sections. Mandatorily.

Apparently this has been the trend in the US for the past so many years and psychologists are now questioning the wisdom of this and some states are even reversing their policy.

The rationale for separating twins is that they need to develop as individuals and this can only happen if they are kept physically away from each other.

I have strong feelings on this matter, so I’m just going to say up front: what crap! What utter nonsense!

Twins will develop individually, they will develop their own personalities ANYWAY. The time will come when they will find their own niches and make their own paths. It might be sooner for some and later for others, but, apart from a small minority of maladjusted twins, most twins will cut their umbilical cords with each other to some extent at some point. Meanwhile, if they have an extra special bond, if they can provide each other comfort, support, strength, why should society at large try to take that away from them? What right have we? Just because we unlucky singletons, even when we have siblings, don’t have twins, we want to deny twins the pleasure of being twins???

I don’t say, either, that twins must always be kept in the same section. Maybe for some twins it actually works better to separate them. Maybe it works one way for some years and then the other way. I don’t think one size fits all.

What I say is, if the kids are old enough, let them say whether they want to be together or not. Trust them on that. And if they aren’t old enough, let the parents decide. Or at least let them decide in collaboration with the teachers. This is not something parents and teachers need to be at loggerheads about – they both want the same things. They want the kids to be happy, comfortable, and secure. I don’t at all believe that if being together helps them be that, then it is a bad thing because they will not be able to face the world individually. Of course they will – but that comes later. They might even end up being more secure and confident due to the early support and strength they get from each other.

This is a matter I feel strongly enough about that I would reject a school that forces twins to split, no matter how good the school might otherwise be. I hope I never have to see the twins forcibly separated, by school or anything else. They will go their own ways when they want to – until then, I hope they always have each other.

Lakshadweep, here we come

December 16, 2008

All this time I’ve been thinking of Lakshadweep in terms of islands and beaches; what I’ve only just begun to realise is that it is not just islands and beaches, it is also a cruise.

Of course, when I say cruise, I immediately think of the movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Now that was a cruise. This? I don’t know. We get to spend four nights on the ship, so it’s a floating home to us, but I don’t know whether it’s so hot in terms of luxuries, or, for that matter, facilities. I don’t expect a swimming pool, tennis courts, ballroom and stuff like that, but a large double bed, attached luxury bath with fancy-schmanzy shower attachment, and a private sundeck wouldn’t be asking too much, would it?

After all, we are going Diamond class. Ooooooooooooh my, that sounds so luxurious.

The reality, no doubt will be quite mundane. So far, my understanding is only that you get a 2-berth cabin instead of 4-berth (which you’d have to share) or dorm. Put like that, it doesn’t sound very luxurious at all. It’ll probably be a tight squeeze with the four of us and all our luggage. As long as I don’t have to sleep with my feet in the bathroom, I suppose it’ll be ok.

Meanwhile, we left home on Monday afternoon and caught a train to Kochi. This train doesn’t have AC First, so we had to slum it in AC 2-tier. We didn’t realise that you don’t get any food at all on this train, not even vendors and hawkers passing by. Luckily I had packed masala dosa (!!) for the kids and we all wolfed them along with a packet of biscuits and called it dinner.

The masala dosa was a first, by the way. Homemade, I mean. I’ve been practising my idli and dosa making skills diligently ever since our neighbour-friends invited us for dinner-cum-demo-cum-crash-course. My dosas have improved by leaps and bounds (they were at a level where they could hardly get any worse), but my idlis are unpredictable, which is surprising because I always thought they’d be the easier of the two. Anyway, I’m becoming a mish-mash South Indian, much to my amusement; I’ll be making bisi bele bath next. And inviting people home for idli-dosa breakfasts. Oh wait, I already tried that on my sister.

Anyway, I said fond farewells to the Christmas cake, which was looking rather lonely as we left. The last time I left home leaving behind uneaten cake was after our wedding, when, apart from bidding goodbye to my parents, sister, dogs, cats etc, I also bade a tearful farewell to a wedding cake in my honour that I had hardly tasted. Oh, I hate sweet goodbyes.

And now we’re in Cochin, eating appams and stew for breakfast and wondering what’s with the steamed bananas. There’s constant banging going on around here (literally, I mean; I don’t know about the other kind) so we’re wondering if it’s a belated celebration for our test match victory, or another Taj-Mumbai like situation. I’ll keep you posted, whenever Internet access is available.

Cake on the Brain

December 12, 2008

Now that my Archaeology assignment is out of the door (phew!) I’ve got some time on my hands. And now that the Christmas cake is out of the oven (after 2 hours and 40 minutes) and out of its tin and sitting and looking at me temptingly… I’ve obviously got cake on my mind.

My love affair with cake goes waaaaaaay back. Cake was really the first thing my sister and I learnt to make unsupervised. I think I must have been about 6 the first time we did it, but we’d been helping our mother for a couple of years before that – mainly by licking clean the mixing bowl (something I’m still very good at).

I remember the cake mix curdling once in the early days. My father was around at the time, I don’t know where my mother was, so I asked him in a worried way what I should do. He just added some flour to it and mixed it up and it looked fine. I’ve never been scared of cake mix curdling after that (which is why I blithely ignored the Christmas cake recipe when it suggested mixing the egg in teaspoon-by-teaspoon to prevent the mixture from curdling), but I’ve also never asked my father for help with cake ever after that. It was kind of worrying even having to do that, because cake-making was not supposed to be his thing, that was supposed to be my mother’s area of expertise.

Anyway, cake-making was a significant part of my growing up years. We always baked for birthdays and sometimes for other occasions, and we baked when we were bored and needed some excitement. We tried out dozens of recipes, some new, some well tried and trusted. We made plain cakes and cup cakes and sponge cakes and tiered cakes, and cakes with fillings and icings and frostings and butter creams and piping and chocolate slivers and glaces, and roast almonds. We made tarts and pies and chocolate eclairs, and chocolate logs, and profiteroles, and scones and muffins (and, in those days, I knew the difference between them) and – once – croissants and occasionally breads and…

There must have been more, but memory fails me (plus, I can hardly type now that I’m salivating so much).

When we weren’t baking, my sister and I learnt some of the more mundane cooking… Rice first, then rotis, then dal, which I eventually began to specialise in and built up an impressive range of six different types of, in an effort to beat the sheer boredom of dal. Then we went on to non-veg dishes, which of course culminated in fish fry and mutton curry. Veggies we never wasted much time on, which explains why my idea of cooking veg involves throwing assorted veg into a saucepan with lots of garlic and very little oil and leaving it to steam for a few minutes.

But cakes in particular (and baking, in general) remained my true love. When I got married and encountered the rather minimalist bachelor kitchen that Amit had, the first thing I did was to buy an electric oven. It was three thousand hard-earned rupees in the days when that was 25% of our monthly income, but it was money well-spent.

All the same, baking lost its charm after I moved away from my parental home. Amit has only half a sweet tooth and he is so very health conscious and calorie conscious that it’s practically cruel making him a cake. Worse, it’s cruel to me as well, because baking is a performing art and needs an appreciative and enthusiastic and participative audience to really flourish. In eleven years of marriage, it’s an art that I’ve almost completely lost touch with. And that’s sad. There was a time when I thought that if I ever set up a business, it would be a cake-supply or small cake-shop type of business. In those days, I had the repertoire to make it possible, but not any more.

Maybe, as the kids grow up, the charm, the excitement, the thrill and romance of baking will slowly come alive again and I can one day return to my former expertise at this delicious art.

But for now, there’s that Christmas cake, looking at me and reminding me that all is not lost.

Christmas Cake, Maybe

December 11, 2008

A new friend was recently introduced to one of my cakes (raisin and walnut, it was) and complimentary comments mixed with idle conversation somehow led to the suggestion that I make a Christmas cake.

I didn’t take the suggestion very seriously at the time – specially considering that said friend is strictly non-alcoholic and declined to taste any cake that might have even a hint of alcohol… but… a week ago I suddenly thought, why not?

A google search for Christmas cake recipes followed, and I did zero research, just blindly adopted the first recipe that came my way. Since I don’t know a thing about Christmas cakes, it would hardly make any difference to me what different recipes said.

Apparently, the first week of December is too late to start working on a Christmas cake. Actually, I already knew this: one of the fascinating aspects of Christmas cakes, for me, has always been how you make them weeks or months in advance of eating them. Sounds like an exercise in masochism, if you ask me. And, how does the stuff keep, why doesn’t it spoil?

Getting the ingredients for my cake together took about a week. You don’t get some of the stuff here. I couldn’t find assorted mixed peel, glaced cherries, or currants anywhere (and these seemed to constitute about 50% of the mixture, by bulk). I substituted with orange peel (I don’t know if it was supposed to be candied, I used it raw), fresh cherries in syrup (which, in the end, I forgot to add to the cake mix!), and a handful of black Afghan raisins. The recipe also called for golden syrup. I found a can of this (only one) in one shop, but it was quite expensive and all I needed was one tablespoon, so I used maple syrup instead, which, as it happened, we had at home. The recipe wanted ground almonds; I put whole almonds into a plastic bag and smashed them with a rolling pin (excellent for relieving stress, if you happen to have any handy).

I also made other random adjustments to the recipe. Considering the reduced quantities of dried fruit, I scaled down the cake part of the recipe as well. Instead of using four eggs, I used three, and reduced the sugar, butter and flour in approximately the same proportions. The recipe called for double grease proof paper to line the baking tin – I used simple grease proof paper, and even that is hard enough to obtain in Bangalore, as I have discovered over the years. It called for a 2-inch brown-paper cuff, mine was only about an inch or so. (Brown-paper cuff? Even if you are used to baking, you might wonder what that’s about. I did, so I checked with my mother, the source of endless advice when it comes to baking. She said it’s probably to deflect the heat, so that the top doesn’t get too brown/burnt.)

Once I had all the ingredients, and had made an extra trip to the store to get the rum which I thought we had at home but we didn’t, and once I had soaked all the dried fruit in the rum for a couple of nights (but not the cherries, which were fresh and there didn’t need to be soaked, or so I thought), I started to assemble the cake.

It took surprisingly long to grate nutmeg, add cinnamon, use the rolling pin technique on a few cloves, blanch some almonds, do the butter paper and brown paper number on the baking tin, measure and sieve the flour and measure out the brown sugar. By the time I had done all that, I realized that I hadn’t let the butter and eggs come to room temperature, as recommended. I wouldn’t have bothered about the eggs, but the butter has to soften so that you can mix everything into it, so I took it out, covered everything and postponed the whole process by a couple of hours.

Finally, around 1.20, I was ready to start. Fifteen minutes later, it was all done. Yes, 15 minutes. If all the other stuff is ready, that’s as long as it takes to put it all together.

And then, it takes three plus hours to bake. Wow! I’m used to cakes baking in 30-45 minutes. Three hours! And once it’s done, you can’t even turn it out, it has to cool in the tin for one whole day! And then you can turn it out, but you can’t eat it – you have to add rum, and keep adding rum, every few days for several weeks! This better be good, really, really good, or it’s not going to be worth the effort.

And, I still don’t understand how it’s going to keep and not spoil. I suppose I’ll know eventually, after a couple of weeks or so.

I still can’t imagine sitting at home all day with a readymade cake staring at me and not being able to eat it. If I can do this, I can do anything. Wish me luck.

Not Now…

December 3, 2008

I’ve got to submit a 3000-word assignment by 12 December. I haven’t even got 3 words together for it yet, not even a title. So I’m a little worried.

And it’s not as if the rest of life will wait while I get this done. There’s still all the usual stuff to do, cooking, cleaning, washing, reading email, watching TV, taking the twins to the park… all that stuff.

Plus, we’re not yet done with the form-filling work for the kids’ school admissions. The last deadline for that is 15 December.

And then, right after that, we’re off to Lakshadweep.

So, if you’ve come here looking for a post, I can only say, sorry, not now. Maybe between assignment submission deadline and catching the train that takes us to the boat that takes us to Lakshadweep. Or, maybe, from the boat. Or after we get back. Or next year. Or something. I don’t know. But anyway, not now.

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