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September 19, 2008

Shut up and eat cake

I am small. Five feet no inches, 43 kgs. My hands are smaller still but I am good with them. I can type fast, I can give a (damn) good massage and I can use them in the kitchen. Strangely enough, whenever the going’s been tough, one or the other use of my hands has stood me good. In 2004, heartbroken and penniless and in 2008, finally loved and hopeful… Who’s scripting this?

To answer Maxine’s, “Where the hell have you been JB?” I’ve been completing university assignments, getting up at 4.40 in the morning, reporting for work at 7 am, then running for classes, coming back and cleaning at home, writing columns (yes plural, will introduce the other one once it’s published) AND cooking. I LOVE cooking and coming to Melbourne is doing good things to my culinary knowledge.

The little that I know, I’ve learnt in one of the three ways: Fiction books, instruction manuals or from people subconsciously. You observe, you learn. Like how I need to put one leg up with the mixing bowl on it when beating eggs for a cake. I picked that up from Kumud aunty. She used to be an army officer’s wife in our colony (1988) and could whip egg whites into stiff peaks (ensures the softest sponge cake) with a fork. Perhaps that also explains my antipathy towards using an electric beater. When it comes to cooking/baking, I am a do-it-manually snob. I will grate it with hand, beat it with fork and knead it with my knuckles than use a blender/mixer that would do the job in five minutes. But know what? I can do it, by hand, in seven minutes. Hrmph.

Partner and I and have constant kitchen conflicts due to our respective cooking styles. I will make the ‘gravy’ by mincing onions, pureeing tomatoes and simmering-while-stirring; he will use two teaspoons of Gravox (powdered gravy in a box). He will use dried mixed herbs from a packet, I will choose the leaves from my grown-in-a-pot-from-seed fresh herbs. I will beat the eggs, add the milk and whip it in the wok to make scrambled eggs; while he will pull his hair out because he would have done it in the microwave. “It tastes the same and I am faster,” is what Partner says. He is a I-can-cook-quick snob; I am an I-do-it-the-real-way snob. Both our snobberies, like all other snobbery, are acquired.

Another area where Partner and I butt heads (both of us are May-born bulls and it comes easily) is when it comes to using recipe books. Noticed how each time you want to try a dish, you will always have that one ingredient missing from your kitchen? Partner will not cook till he has every little item for a recipe -- even if it won’t be used again in the next 10 years for another dish -- while I am practical. I enjoy experimenting and finding substitutes. Of course there are things you just cannot do without. Like you cannot have tiramisu without mascarpone, but you can have a carrot cake without marzipan carrots and full-cream milk in blueberry muffins works just as well as buttermilk.

One of the primary influences in my experimental cooking have been Ma and a website. I chanced upon the website in 2004 and quite by accident. It was a time when my self-esteem was at the lowest. I HATED my body, hated being a woman, hated my heart, my naïveté and everything was going horribly, horribly wrong. Little I knew then that the turbulence would continue till early 2007... I was far removed from cakes and hated cooking. In fact I hated the kitchen. It symbolised my weakness, of my servility for a bit of love and approval.

For personal reasons, I had quit my job and decided to freelance from home. Coincidentally (since I’m freelancing now as well), back then too it was The Hindustan Times that had given me a break. They had a Saturday page called ‘Gen Now’ and I wrote 700-words feature stories for it. Hmm. Other than HT back then, the freelance plan backfired and I found myself without any job, money or sustenance. That’s also when I was reading one of the abridged four-books-in-one compilations by Reader’s Digest.

I’ve always enjoyed fiction more than non-fiction and if it were ever a choice between a simple, good story and the Award Winning Book On Earth, I’d pick the simple story one. So in that compilation, there was the abridged version of a book. It was the story of Ruth and how she loved baking cakes. How people loved eating the cakes she baked and how her baking was an outward manifestation of her need to look after her family. Her husband had been fired, her parents were living with her and they were in financial trouble. In the book, Ruth’s 16-year-old daughter encourages her to sell the cakes. Ruth’s ageing mother makes hand-made boxes, the daughter becomes her driver and marketing agent and they start a business. Throughout the novel, Ruth speaks of tangy lemon cakes, melt-in-your-mouth sponge cakes and comforting bundt cakes.

The novel made me miss my Ma and how she made her special Black Forest when we had important guests for dinner. Or the moist, soft Pineapple pastry for the ladies’ meetings. Or the Tutti-Frutti special for our tiffins lunch box. In all those cakes, I was her ‘beater’, the one who copied Kumud aunty and whipped the eggs into silken peaks with a fork. The novel made me miss Ma. Made me realise more how I had made a MESS of my life with one stupid mistake. So I cried and as I cried and reached the end of the novel, there was a recipe for a bundt cake. I didn’t know what a ‘bundt cake’ was and as I Googled, I reached a website. A happy website with delicious cake recipes, substitutes if you didn’t have the exact ingredients and more than anything else, stories about why a cake was baked in a certain way. It made me happy, it gave me something to do and it let me reconnect with memories I had forgotten. It also made baking sound easier.

So I started baking, the first time without my Ma. Those who came home liked the cakes. Someone asked if I could bake for their kid’s birthday party, they said they would pay me for it… I did. The birthday party cake was a hit. I had made a carrot-apple cake with walnuts and covered it with light chocolate icing. Two other mothers took my number and ordered two cakes. I was stunned. It was like the book! When they had called, they had asked for a rate card and a menu, I didn’t have either. But the idea stuck and just like the book, I made a menu and began packing my cakes in hand-made boxes (also learnt from the Internet).

People were ordering at least nine cakes a week and as my confidence grew, I ended up getting a media job as well. All in five months to the day I first read the book in June 2004. As ‘tribute’ to the book that inspired me -- though it would be called ‘trashy reading’ by voracious, knowledgeable readers -- I called my home ‘bakery’, Eat Cake. After author Jeanne Ray’s book, ‘Eat Cake: A Novel’. The website that helped me survive with recipes was Joy Of Baking. People in different parts of the globe, who don’t even know me, helped me… I hope to thank them someday.

And then they say that fiction is trash and bloggers/blogging are nonsense. What do they know?

PS: WHAT is it about Andrea Bocelli’s voice? I don’t understand a word of what he is singing, but he DOES something to my insides. His voice makes me want to run without touching the ground, it wants me to feel the wind go through each pore in my body, wants me to cry out loud but not make a sound, it makes me want to pray but not to any god, it wants me to get drenched in the rain and mix in with the mud, it wants me to… Oh. The song just ended. It’s strangely disappointing when he stops singing. I wish I understood. It’s not even PMS.


taurius1 said...

I haven't enjoyed reading a blog post this much in a long time...
Keep on baking! It's the most theraputic way I know of being content with my life.

Eve* aka JB said...

Cookie stealing monster! :) Long time, hope you've been well. What's the latest you've baked?

Kartikey said...

It's a joy to read about muffins and lovelies while having your breakfast.
Listen to singer Roy Orbison. You may not get the words, but he may get to you.

Enjoy 4:40.
What's the one mistake you made that messed your life? Any post on it?

fbm said...

Oi,that was nice. Once i was in firangi land for a while, broke as usual,then i did make a few bucks by home catering exclusive Goanese & Mallu sea food. It was a huge hit. Now i am broke again, we can do it together when you come back !!

Mini said...

Hey Jhoumour,

Love reading your blogs...well I can't cook for nuts....I hate goin to the kitchen also...but now maybe I will try something n will let u know for sure how was it...

You take care,

Eve* aka JB said...

Dear Kartikey,
Dont think I remember 'reading' you here before this. At the onset, welcome. Will definitely try out Orbison. Also, how is it you picked up on the one negative item in the post? :) The mistake's done, lived through and atoned for; that should be enough, no?

Eve* aka JB said...

FBM --> Bloody good idea, eh. We can add Bangla food to the list as well. Why aren't you cooking anymore though...or do you cook at home?

Eve* aka JB said...

Mini--> If you're the facebook Mini, then you don't need to cook! but if you try out something, do share.

Readers ---> Do note, we have yet another permutation of my name, 'jhoumour'!!!


Kartikey said...

I didn't find it negative.
Mistakes are not always negative to me.

I also picked up cakes and the human touch you give to your food.

I have been here before. An older post. And also on the wordpress blog under another name.

maxine said...

Thats it!See this is why i dont read stories and that too inspirational success stories.Makes me feel or rather realise the failed skin in me.Something has happened to me reading this and i dont even want to say what.

Parikhit said...

Hi JB,
Im glad your enjoying yourself in Melbourne...:)
Lovely writing and i have always enjoyed reading your blogs. Thanks for sharing.
Hope to taste some of your baking in the future.


Kiran Sawhney said...

It is a delight (read mouth watering) to read your this post. Was not aware of your culinary skills.

Maxine said...

Sowwy...wont comment early morning and under the influence.

4.40AM ,is that a time to wake up? It should be either 4.30 or 4.45 or 5
Couple of days back watched a friend make tiramisu.Didnt taste though.Not that am on a diet but well...its my teeth and a long story.Not relevant here.And yea she used coffee in it and made her own whip cream.
Open 'Eat Cake' in Melbourne.And slowly open a branch in usa too.I can be the Chief Baker there :D
Every one wants a taste of your cake.I have a feeling i'll be the only one left without in the end.And when did you start seeing hell in my words?

Josh Groban,try him.Hey i hve the same kinda player in mine too.And this song is Soooper.

I wanna go away in search of my success and come back n say,hey i did it.

Eve* aka JB said...

my gawd! we love food, dont we. had i realised you all would react such to food, and given that i am smelling of food CONSTANTLY these days, would write about it more!!!

KARTIKEY ---> I just realised, i noticed the negative in your comment even though there was none. Says something about me, doesnt it? (smiles) apologies for not having noticed earlier.

MAXINE---> You more than anyone else should know how much of a success story...you have been witness to some of the darkest hours. remember slashed doggy for breakfast post? and that's as recent as august 2007... PATIENCE, i hate that word, but it is strangely and irritatingly true. and at times, the only course of action.
As for success stories, Eat Cake died when i lost my cellphone adn the person who had the money then and could buy me another phone, refused to buy me another one as punishment. sigh. that was also the time when out of the blue, i got a job with indiatimes... perhaps someone was looking out for me. who knows? all i know is i was waiting without knowing things would change... WAIT.

PARIKHIT---> good to see you here and a pleasant surprise. i love your photos too...if you EVER shoot anything that we could put up on the blog here and link to a website you might have, please do share. would love contributions here.

KIRAN---> someday perhaps we will meet again and i will have the chance to "host" you. :) how is the us...still there or back home?

Kiran Sawhney said...

am really looking forward to eating ur yum yum cakes now. back to our dear dilli

taurius1 said...

Hehe. It's nice to be back here. I've managed to not find anything to talk about in your previous posts... :/

The last thing I tried baking was herbed bread. I got inspired by an anime about bread baking. :D
My first time around, in my excitment and hurry, I managed to use cornflour instead of baking flour. You can imagine the rest.
The next laof was decent, though. Have to figure our how to make the yeast work properly... otherwise, really good stuff. ^_^

taurius1 said...

P.S. Cookie Stealing Monster? You insult me. :(

Cookie Craving Schizophrenic. :)

maxine said...

Taurius :-)Me glad to see you too.Shouldnt we have an old batch party with cakes n cookies and an eating competetion.

Wish me luck oh blog.I'm upto something.Drastic.:p

Geetha said...

A story however simple is still as engaging as it was when I was only a kid and used to lie on my granny's lap pestering her for a story.
The fables and folklore she used to recite..there has been no better time in my life than that, the warmth and security of a loving soul and imaginary world she used to create for me.
Well long ago when times were not good for me I too have read Ruth's story of baking from the reader's digest series!! Even though I didnt take to baking it did stay in my mind . Imagine my surprise at reading about that in ur blog.
Its been a pleasure reading this post.

Maxine said...

Andrea Bocelli:Time to say goodbye
When Im alone
I dream on the horizon
And words fail;
Yes, I know there is no light
In a room
Where the sun is not there
If you are not with me.
At the windows
Show everyone my heart
Which you set alight;
Enclose within me
The light you
Encountered on the street.

Time to say goodbye,
To countries I never
Saw and shared with you,
Now, yes, I shall experience them,
Ill go with you
On ships across seas
Which, I know,
No, no, exist no longer;
With you I shall experience them.

When you are far away
I dream on the horizon
And words fail,
And yes, I know
That you are with me;
You, my moon, are here with me,
My sun, you are here with me.
With me, with me, with me,

Time to say goodbye,
To countries I never
Saw and shared with you,
Now, yes, I shall experience them,
Ill go with you
On ships across seas
Which, I know,
No, no, exist no longer;
With you I shall re-experience them.
Ill go with you
On ships across seas
Which, I know,
No, no, exist no longer;
With you I shall re-experience them.
Ill go with you,
I with you.

DewdropDream said...

Coming very late to the party but had to speak up because you're about the only person I know who's read that book and enjoyed it as much as I have! My only baking experiment was lemon cheesecake and it turned out quite well... I cannot whip cream or make stiff peaks of egg whites as yet but I have always wanted to bake and I intend to get there.

And I do wish I'd known there was someone with 'Eat Cake' in India... would have delighted me to no end!!! Good luck with assignments and stuff and hope your culinary feats achieve new heights :)

Anonymous said...

Hahha. JB is perhaps one of the most insecure imitators and wannabes around. I mean she is still writing as to how she has lost weight and got this body or whatever it is, after like 2 years or something. Grow up JB! It might just get reflected in your writing.
Secondly, a low lying cunt like you, you know those idiotic delhi types, will never know what Andrea Bocelli is. Obviously, with no literary knowledge of anything, how can poor Eve know anything? tsk tsk

maxine said...

The 'Subway'ad guy,he lost weight some 10 years ago and they still advertise with him.Grow up Subway!!!tsk tsk.

Also,nice to read the literary flow of words of Andrea Bocelli's 'mama' up here.

the mad momma said...

beautiful post JB. I could almost see you stand there talking...

Anonymous said...

hi JB

Lovely post.. I'm inspired . Shall bake apple pie tomorrow with the help of one Teresa - my domestic support system.. Like your blog . a lot .