Sleep Deprivation Disasters

February 3, 2010

January was a tough month. What with two jobs, no household help and a change in residence, we were sleeping past 11 each night (usually closer to 12) and getting up between 5.30 and 6 a.m. all days except Sundays, when the kids kindly let us sleep till 6.30 as a special favour. After one full month of this, we both have a serious sleep deficit. I’m not one who thrives on six hours of sleep a night – even had I been getting it; I need between 7 and 8 hours, the more so when life becomes more busy and stressful.

So this week, I’ve been practically falling asleep at my desk – all day long! The struggle to keep my head on my neck and my eyes open starts at 10 a.m. and lasts till… midnight, actually. It’s terrible – I really don’t know what kind of work I’ve been doing and whether it is at all up to the mark or not.

So it was probably not a good idea to add to our stress levels and sleep deficit by going out for dinner on a weekday evening, but Amit was adamant: Birthdays must be celebrated on birthdays, not on any old “convenient” day. Perhaps, too, I should have skipped tennis yesterday and settled for an extra 30 minutes of sleep – but what the heck: on my birthday, at least, I should get to play tennis, shouldn’t I? It was a bad idea, though, because what with the terrible cough I have (remnant from an exhaustion-induced cold I got some ten-odd days ago) and the general tiredness, I just couldn’t get my game going. That was frustrating and disappointing, and the only redeeming thought was, at least I tried.

I’d decided that I wanted the Best Ever Fudge Cake for my birthday. That’s not just a description of the cake, that’s its name. I’ve made it  many times over the 15-odd years since I first discovered it, and I’d have to say that its name lives up to its promise – it is really delicious. But, it’s a lot of work. Since Amit hasn’t ever really gotten into baking, I knew I’d have to do it myself. So I started on Sunday. Night. Right around 10 p.m. after the kids had gone to bed and I’d got their lunch and stuff packed for Monday. It was past midnight before the cakes were done, which gave me all of Monday to do the icings. But first, I had to find icing sugar.

Icing sugar is one of those things that is practically impossible to find when you really need it – just like cocoa powder. When I’m baking, I usually need both and it’s a given that I will, at best, find one – and perhaps not even in sufficient quantity. And that was back in Koramangala, where you can find most things in walking distance. Here, out in the middle of nowhere, I didn’t really expect to find it easily and I was right. I drew a blank on Sunday, so on Monday evening, I drove around the shops near office and eventually got lucky. Then, of course, I picked up one year’s supply of it. (Looking back, I find that I had a similar experience last year – hopefully next year will be better, if this lot doesn’t expire by then.)

Monday evening was a busy evening even by our standards. Some aggressive efforts over the weekend had resulted in one domestic help being engaged and she reported for work on Monday evening. She speaks only Kannada, which I speak very little of, so somewhere in our communications I understood that she would both clean and cook. By 8.15, when she had finished cleaning and washing dishes (and practically emptying our water tank in the process; why do these women always use much, much more water than required to wash dishes? Haven’t they ever faced water shortage in their lives? Don’t they – they of all people, they, who might have to carry water in buckets to their homes, who might have to share a toilet with 20 others, which will obviously run out of water – don’t they realize how precious water is????)

Anyhow, when she had finished wasting our water and giving Amit a heart-attack, she tied up her sari and made to leave. Cooking? It’s too late – some other day, perhaps, she said. Great. If I’d known that, I’d have made her do the cooking first. Who wants a clean house when you can have a hot meal instead? But it was too late now. So after she left and the kids went to bed, I got to work on the cooking and then right around midnight, I finally finished up the cake and it was ready to eat.

Why wait? I plunged the knife in with minimum ceremony and…

It got stuck!

Oh, right – that’s why the recipe calls for baking powder, which, in my sleep-deprived state on Sunday night, I’d forgotten to put. So instead of the light, soft, melting cake I usually get, I got a tough, leathery load of lead. Great. This was clearly not the best ever Best Ever Fudge Cake.

At least the icing was ok, so I gritted my teeth and stolidly worked my way through a slice; Amit, of course, gave up after a few bites. That was probably a smart thing to do – I doubt that kilo of lead in my stomach late at night did anything to improve my tennis six hours later. But what the heck – I had to have birthday cake on my birthday, right? (Sometimes, determination is SO counterproductive.)

So late nights, bad cake, and erratic tennis notwithstanding, we were headed for dinner out on birthday night. We drove to work together, dropping the kids at school, their lunch at daycare, and enduring innumerable traffic jams along the way; and a little after 5.30, we left office together, picking up the kids, enduring further traffic jams and heading for our old home. There, with many disclaimers as to the quality, we dropped off birthday cake and kids with S&P (many thanks, guys) and went for dinner. We went to Via Milano, an Italian restaurant that we’ve been to once before. It was a good evening – good food, good beer, good ambience, good service. (It was, of course, ridiculously expensive… but we only go out thrice a year without the kids, so we didn’t mind too much.) It would have been a fantastic evening if we hadn’t both been falling asleep immediately after dinner. From around 10 p.m. onwards, we both had a battle on our hands – and, in my case, a losing battle at that – to keep our eyes open till we could pick up the kids and drive back home. Luckily, Amit was driving – he does a better job of keeping his eyes open at critical junctures. Also, we did get stopped for a breathalyzer test, which I would probably not have passed.

Leaving home for a late night out with the kids is like going out of town for a week. We had the kids’ school bags, with snack boxes and water bottles; their lunch bag, with a zillion boxes of food and a change of clothes; their night bag with yet another change of clothes and a blanket; their shoes, which they had worn all day, but weren’t wearing now because they were asleep; our laptop cases; my handbag; and a bag of stuff we’d picked up from S&S along the way. At least some of this would have to be sorted out before we could crash out.

Just as I was dumping a bunch of dirty clothes in the laundry bag and the quadzillion lunch and snack boxes in the kitchen sink, I noticed that the rice box from the kids’ lunch bag was missing. Where could it be? The daycare was too organized to have forgotten to send it back. With a sinking heart, I opened the fridge, and… sure enough, there it was, sitting neatly where I’d left it on Monday night.

We had forgotten to send them any rice for lunch! Poor kids!

I was so exhausted that I didn’t have more than 5 microseconds to feel horribly guilty about it before I fell asleep. That’s what sleep deprivation does to you.

So today, the new woman in my life is going to be hit with a load of cooking; she is going to have to wash dishes with a tiny fraction of the water she’d normally use; she is going to manage the laundry; and I am going to bed at 10 p.m. Or sooner.

Let’s hope I can make it that far without slipping up on something critical.

Birthday Cake

February 2, 2009

I’ve never wanted to make my own birthday cake. I mean, the whole idea of a birthday is that everyone else does everything for you and you get to feel like royalty for a day.

But the trouble is, I make the best cakes in town.

I mean, not to be immodest or anything, and there are bound to be other people out there who also make wonderful cakes (like Andy), but I know what I want and I know how to make it (or so I think). The commercial bakeries make very good looking confectioneries, with lots of whipped cream, strawberries, chocolate flakes, fancy-schmanzy piping and all that… but when it comes right down to it, I want my cake to have chocolate, lots of chocolate, rich, dark, sweet, thick, cloying, kill-me-now chocolate, and I don’t know anyone who does that better than me.

Not having had much to do in the past couple of weeks or so, I’ve been fantasizing about my birthday whenever I had a moment to spare. Let me add that I’m not usually like this – usually, my birthday arrives practically without my noticing it, lasts for a day or two (as long as the cake lasts) and is forgotten in a day. But this year I’ve been dreaming of my birthday the way a person on a diet dreams of a big, greasy pizza followed by a mound of chocolate cake and ice cream. Which is not much of an analogy because it’s way too close to the truth. (Except for the diet part… not much truth in that! But we’ll ignore that for now.)

So anyway, as the birthday drew nearer, I worked out precisely which cake I wanted to make, which icing I wanted on it, how much of it I wanted to make, when I was going to make it, when I was going to eat it and so on and so forth. I almost became obsessed with my birthday cake.

Which, I suppose, explains a lot – obsessions are never a good thing.

I started mixing the cake on Sunday morning. My birthday was on Monday (that’s today), but I wanted to have the cake done on Sunday, so that on my birthday I didn’t have to mess around with butter and cocoa and other gross things. Besides, I had some vague thought of a midnight cake-cutting followed by a midnight cake and ice cream session. Ok, it wasn’t all that vague. Obsession, remember?

By Sunday lunch time, two cakes had gone into the oven and two plus a mess had come out. One of the cake tins, you see, had a removable bottom. This is supposed to make it easier to get the cake out after it’s baked. It’s not supposed to let the cake out in liquid form, but that’s what it had done. The cake mix had oozed out onto the baking tray below, and there it had baked and burned into a strangely shaped, chocolate coloured mess.

Well, we ate the mess right away, it wasn’t too badly burnt. And the second cake came out ok, because it’s bottom stayed right where it was supposed to be. And, what’s more, the baking tray actually got washed for the first time in years.

Next, for the icing. I had decided on fudge frosting, which is totally yummy. The recipe I have always makes too much. Instead of scaling it down, I make it all, and then consume it in pieces over the next few weeks – it becomes like chocolate when you refrigerate it.

The trouble with icing of any kind is, and always has been, that it requires icing sugar. For some reason, this is an ingredient that is extraordinarily difficult to get hold of anywhere near wherever I happen to be at the time. So when we finally got around to looking for it on Sunday evening (after the Australian Open, poor Roger!), we were naturally heading towards death, desolation and despair. Well, not death maybe, unless I killed the next shopkeeper who said he didn’t have it, but certainly desolation and despair. It was only after five negatives that I finally got a maybe, and that yielded three ancient, dust-covered, tiny packets of icing sugar. I snapped them up – the dust cover notwithstanding.

The frosting was ready by 9.30, by which times the cakes were stone cold sober. Well, stone cold at least was important ( because they had never been intoxicated in the first place). The frosting was still warm-ish, but I decided to take the chance and use it anyway. I took the cake that hadn’t oozed out at the bottom and leveled its top; then I smeared a thick layer of frosting on it and jammed on top of it the cake that had oozed out at the bottom.

With disastrous consequences.

The top layer started disintegrating in front of my eyes, while I desperately tried to glue it together with huge quantities of frosting. A futile effort. The top layer slowly slid apart on the lower layer of frosting, creating dramatic ravines of frosting as it did so. I would have wept, but Amit’s shoulder was way too high to cry on, so I couldn’t.

Eventually, I slid the disintegrating pieces off the cake, dumped them on a separate place, scraped off the messed-up frosting and spread a fresh layer (the benefits of having lots of frosting at hand) and wrote off half the cake. That is, being a die hard chocaholic not easily put off by such minor matters as form factor, I smothered it with ice cream and gobbled it up as homemade Death by Chocolate. (Haven’t heard of it? Here’s a short introduction.)

What, me? Diet? Who ever thought of such a thing?

Homemade Christmas Cake Rocks!

December 31, 2008

I didn’t cut the cake at Christmas, because I wanted to give it an extra few days to soak in the rum. Besides, I didn’t think we were celebrating Christmas. As it happened, we went to meet S&S and V&V and after the kids – all four of them – were done posing under V&V’s Christmas cake, we trooped out for dinner. Four kids and six adults made it the largest and most kid-centric outing any of us had ever been on, but on the whole it was quite a success, though a bit tiring.

Anyway, back to the cake. It appeared to have survived the long duration since its birth, with only a few dousings of rum. And when I say a few… Five. Two tablespoons each time. And I didn’t have a skewer, so I used a knitting needle. Number 12, I think, not that that’s relevant. (But then, there’s so little on this blog that is relevant anyway.)

So anyway, the last attempt at making the cake truly inebriated, intoxicated and generally rummy (not to mention inebriating, intoxicating and generally delicious) was yesterday afternoon.

Now I had promised S&S – with whom we will be ushering in the new year – a new year eve cake, and if this cake were to be that cake, I’d have to check beforehand that this cake was edible. Which made yesterday night the time for cutting the cake, something both Amit and I had been eagerly looking forward to.


And it was good! Ok, I do wish that one variety of dried fruit, perhaps the sultanas, didn’t have so many big, crunchy seeds. But, on the other hand, those were the fruits that were deliciously squishy and delightful to chew.

And there was rum, enough rum. The flavour was rummy, and it left a nice warm feeling in the throat after it had gone down. Yummmmmmmmm…

Next year, I’m going to start shopping in June, bake in October, put more pulpy dried fruit and less seedy ones, and just generally make more.

And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with eating cake that was baked weeks or months ago, if it’s got enough rum in it. Doug, you should try it.

And, if there really was just one fruit cake that gets passed around every year, well, that number just went up to two… but not for long!

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