Her first tune

One Sunday past, when the outside was still orange with autumn and not as naked as it is today, a little promise was kept. Remember that promise of music? The one I could see in the far distance when a piano edged in through our doorway, and Chotto-ma had her first music lesson?

Well, on Sunday I was stretched out on the sofa between a doze and a dream, and D was sitting on the armchair with his feet on the coffee table, when Chotto-ma brought him his guitar. She wanted him to play it while she played the piano. Then she sat down on the black stool as she does, feet dangling, back straight, fingers curved on keys. And she played. D followed her lead, and she took him into the tune she’d been hearing in her head.

It took me a while to realise something special was happening. My ears had been expecting a playful plonking of one of her lessons, but her book of notes was closed, and what I was hearing was her first little composition, her own tune. As one note followed another, I sat up. D looked at me, grinning, still guitaring along. Midway through their session, I remembered to record.

It’s quite something to hear your child make their first music. Somewhere between magic and a punch in the plexus. Who knew? OK, OK, you even cry a little. And then you try to play cool. You also kiss her and eat her up; for which you never need much reason anyway.

And then, with her little tune playing in your head, you go into the kitchen, to bake something you’ve haven’t baked before. But you figure, her first tune deserves your first apple crumble. So the three of you chop up some apples, tickle some flour, find the cinnamon, sprinkle the sugar and have the house smelling like November.

So here it is: Chotto-ma’s first composition for you to listen to, and an apple crumble for after. The composition’s called ‘Sunday morning’ because it’s what our Sunday morning sounds like.

‘Sunday morning’ Chotto-ma with Ba

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Apple Crumble

This is the simplest, quickest crumble there is; and adapted to our taste, as everything is. It’s lower in butter and sugar than most crumbles, but it’s also less tart, so the sweetness finds its balance. It’s good.

Ingredients

450gms apple, peeled and cubed (Gala or Braeburn works well if, like me, you don’t like your crumble tart)
A pinch of cinnamon

For the crumble:

300 gms plain flour, sieved with a pinch of salt
160 gms of coarse brown sugar
150 gms of butter cubed at room temperature
A knob of butter to grease dish

Preheat oven to 180 degree C (350F/Gas mark 4)
Put the flour, sugar and butter in a large bowl, and rub it all together using both hands till it forms  a mix that looks like breadcrumbs.
Grease baking dish with butter.
Mix apples with cinnamon, and place in baking dish.
Sprinkle the crumble mixture on top. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes until crumble is browned and apples are bubbling.
Serve with custard or cream.

Nothing

I sit down to write a post, but I realise I have nothing to write about. So I tell D I have nothing to write about and D says why don’t I write about Nothing.

Who’d want to read about Nothing? Who’d want to read about a nothing kind of week? With exactly seven days, each day with exactly the same name: Tuesday right after Monday. People un-upsidedown. Duvets in duvet-covers. My washed washing still in the washing-machine. Four cows in the Common chewing on their grumpiness and that fine grass. Pooing as they walk, pooing as they eat. Terrible table manners under absurdly good sunsets. River, rowers, ripples. Goddamn alliterations. And autumn.

Nothing that trumpets. Or tells a story. And that’s the thing about Nothing, see. It doesn’t care. It doesn’t want to be. Doesn’t want to make a point. I watch Chotto-ma blow at a dandelion, scattering seeds to wind, till there’s nothing left but a green stump. But in that Nothing is contained one deep breath. Held. Released. Sending scores of seeds parachuting to its soil, sprouting into a hundred beautiful weeds.

I like Nothing. I like stories that say nothing, and tell something. I like questions that ask nothing, and walks that go nowhere. I like cul-de-sacs. And pointless conversations. And silence. And empty hours. And blank paper. There’s nothing quite like Nothing.

I had nothing much in the kitchen on Friday. I came home to a few stalks of celery, four carrots, a bunch of forgotten spring onions, some dried chillies and a couple of potatoes. And wine, for there is always wine.

Something good came out of that. Something good always comes out of nothing much.




Carrot, Celery and Chipotle Soup

Ingredients

1 cup chopped celery
2 cups sliced carrots
1/2 cup chopped spring onion (white onion will also do)
3 potatoes, halved lengthwise, then sliced in thick-ish semi-circles
1 chipotle chilli (this is what gives the soup its lovely smoky flavour)
1/2 cup dry white wine
A knob of butter
2 bayleaves
Coarsely-ground black pepper
Salt

Heat butter in a deep pan. Add the celery, carrots, potato, onion and a pinch of pepper. Stir for a couple of minutes on low heat.
Add about 6 cups of water, salt and bayleaves. Cover with lid and simmer till the vegetables are halfway cooked.
Add the wine and chipotle chilli, then continue to boil with the lid off till the vegetables are cooked and tender.
Serve hot.

PS: Don’t go by the soup’s plain appearance. Inside, it is a thing of great beauty.
PPS: We had the leftover soup the next day with a grilled sausage dunked in.

D and a Bullet

When we lived in Calcutta, D used to own a Royal Enfield Bullet. It was famously good-looking in a solid, black, unfussy kind of way; and as heavy as a house. But more than anything, it was a motorbike made of muscle and mind. A temperamental thing that could purr to a start on the first kick, or refuse to budge on the nineteenth. It suited us perfectly.

D had bought it a few months before we started dating, so his friends concluded that Bullets came with a steady girlfriend; a few boys in his neighbourhood offered to buy it from him. The Bullet also came with something else – a Voice. You could hear it long before it came into view. Dhhig-dhhig-dhhig. Slow, steady, loud. Like a good heart. For me, that sound came to mean many things, because it was the sound of D arriving, returning. The end of a small waiting.

One evening – a few months into our relationship, much before we were married – I was at home watching TV with Baba, when my ears picked up the sound of a Bullet entering our building complex; we lived on the fourth floor. The sound made me sit up straight, heartbeat up a notch. But then, remembering Baba next to me, I quickly feigned a relaxed posture. I stretched, and slowly got up, muttering something about fresh air. I made my way towards the balcony, adopting what I thought was a splendidly purposeless walk. I’d taken no more than five steps when–
“It’s not him,” Baba said, without taking his eyes off the telly.

My Baba – as sharp as the edge of a new page. There’s not much you could ever sneak past him. Later that day, I learnt that someone else in the building had bought a Bullet. Damn, I thought, I didn’t need the confusion. In a few days though, my ears had worked out the difference in sounds, and came to the unbiased conclusion that the sound of D’s Bullet was far sweeter.

So, that’s how it always was – D, me and the Bullet. It’s the way our old friends remember us. Seated on it, D and I got to know each other better, we talked and laughed, argued and made up,  planned things, escaped for a few hours. D would pick me up from college after classes – that famed ‘lobby’ of Jadavpur University – and off we would go, without a plan. Years later, after we were married, he’d be there waiting with the Bullet next to my office to pick me up from work.

When we left Calcutta, we had to sell the Bullet. I don’t have a single photograph of it – of us riding it, standing by it, near it. Not one. We didn’t take many photographs in those days. I wish we had one though, just to show Chotto-ma.

Even though our Bullet found a new home, just like we did, there are a few things which haven’t changed. The sound of D arriving, returning, still makes me sit up like it used to. Only now, it’s not the dhhig-dhhig-dhhig of a bullet, but the slam of a car door, footsteps up the stairs. And we still find ways to escape for a few hours.

Every once in a while, we both take the day off work, drop Chotto-ma at school, and keep the day for ourselves. We did that last week. Took the day off, took a long walk, sat by the river, talked. Discovered a new street, narrow and crammed with gardens. Stopped at a pub for a drink. Ate a perfectly cooked Thai meal. We browsed our favourite bookshop. Picked a fern for Chotto-ma. Then, sat at a cafe, till it was time to pick her up from school. D read the newspaper. I wrote a little poem on a magnetic poetry board, which, having lost most of its words, stood by the cafe window gathering dust.

………

I also did something else last weekend. I came up with a sublime little dessert. ‘Sublime’, because there is no other word for it. We had friends over, and I wanted something quick, simple. I also wanted something seasonal and cold. But: nearly no work.

I had a few ingredients at home – a pot of mascarpone, coconut milk, one lone apple and a bowl of cherries. Together, they sang. It was the stuff of sonatas, I tell you.

 ………


Stewed Apples & Cherries in a Mascarpone-Coconut Cocktail

Ingredients

2 apples, cut into small cubes
10  large cherries, pit removed and quartered
3-4 tbs mascarpone
1 1/2 cup coconut milk
1 star anise
Castor sugar
Cashew or pecan nut to top (or a sprig of mint)

Add apples, cherries, coconut milk, star anise and 1 tbsp sugar in a pan and put to heat.
Simmer gently for a minute, and fish out the star anise.
Continue to simmer till the coconut milk is all gone and the fruit is tender. It’ll all be a lovely cherry colour.
Take it off the heat. Add 3 to 4 tbs-dollops of mascarpone into the warm, stewed fruit.
Add sugar to taste. Stir it all in.
Spoon it into cocktail glasses, top with a nut or a sprig of mint and refrigerate for 40 minutes to set.
Take it out 10 minutes before serving.

A hugger, a kisser, a storybook reader


When we were little, Ma gave me and my brother something of great value, and of little cost. A love of books. She didn’t buy us piles of them. She just sat there and read her own. So we got bored and did the same, and then we were never bored again.

My earliest memories of Ma involve half of her face poking out from behind a book. Quiet breathing, page turning, a scowl of concentration sitting above her nose. If she wasn’t cooking, or letting me know what she thought of my messy room, she was reading her Hemingways and Durrells, her le Carrés. Or handing me her battered copy of The Old Man and the Sea – probably to stop me reading another Barbara Cartland; I was sixteen. 

I grew up thinking this is what mothers do: they read.



And they did, too. D’s mother was no different. After I got married, I was suddenly surrounded by Bengali literature – of which she read everything from the modern to the classics. D remembers her always worrying when she approached the last pages of a book if she didn’t have another at hand to start on. Even in the years before her death, when she had trouble walking, she would stubbornly trudge to the local library at least once every week.

Books were how people passed an afternoon, an evening, a lifetime. There were fewer distractions, fewer people flicking their touchscreens.

I started reading to Chotto-ma before she was born. I read The Tale of Peter Rabbit loudly to my tummy every night through my pregnancy. It seemed perfectly logical at the time. Thankfully, D didn’t blink an eye, and by the time Chotto-ma was born, we both knew the story by heart. I read her poetry, I read her fiction – loud enough for her to kick inside me in response. A few days before Chotto-ma was born, I remember D walking in on me reading aloud Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, shaking his head at my choice of book. Wasn’t it a tad early for her, the ravages of a bloody civil-war?

She’s five now, and she loves books as much as she loves pancakes. D and I had made a few decisions early on – that we wouldn’t give her screens to play with. No iPads (we don’t own one), no iPhones, no laptops and certainly no video games. Yes, they’re tempting babysitters, especially when you’re bringing up a child without any family to give you a break, without a nanny to give you a breather. I’m sure we were sorely tempted, but I’m glad we held out. We now have a girl who’s utterly technologically challenged, but she has plenty of time to catch up with that. For now, she has a world inside her head bursting with stories, books to burrow into and leaves and twigs to bring home. That will do.


So, here’s a note to my mother: Apart from being a hugger and a kisser, thank god you were a reader, Ma. Amongst a hundred other reasons, I love you for that. For having me grow up with the smell of your old yellow books. You couldn’t have passed on a better gift.


Ma reading to Chotto-ma, summer of 2013.



Five days

D was away the whole of last week. Well, five days to be fair. But five days too far gone. In yonder-off Canada; a different continent, across Large Water Body, where people go to sleep when we’re waking up. I know there’s a sea of travelling spouses out there, but thankfully they’re not mine. I feel limbless without D to wrestle and hug and wake up to.

It was also Chotto-ma’s first stretch without Ba. She missed him so much that she finally decided to pretend he was in the bathroom. She also wrote him notes, drew him messages and licked his face on skype.

She wrote me a note too, and gave it to me (in an envelope) right after D left for the airport.

Yes, we can make a big soppy brouhaha about five days, which in Chotto-ma’s words ‘felt like sixty-five days.’ To hell with moderation, to hell with anti-mush. When he walked in through the door on Saturday morning, we were on him like cling-film on leftovers.

So how did we spend those ‘sixty-five days’? Well, apart from waiting for D to come back, we:

Overfed the ducks in the river.

Played dominoes.

Played hooky from school to watch Kung Fu Panda whilst eating dumplings.

Read books – she hers, I mine.

Had long conversations about life (it’s the coolest thing; the things Chotto-ma and I talk about now, cuddled up on the sofa with a blanket on our legs.)

Ate dark red juicy plums.

Brought in spring.

Danced to Fleetwood Mac.

Baked D a Crème Caramel.

Crème Caramel

In India, a crème caramel is called ‘pudding’. A pudding is a crème caramel. So, when we first moved to England that’s what I expected everyone to agree to. Pudding = crème caramel. But no. Here, pudding = dessert. Everything is a pudding: a sponge cake, a cheesecake, ice-cream with jelly,  fruits with custard. Everything. This seismic food-shift, this pudding-shock, took more time to get used to than the British weather.

Bubulma, D’s mother, was known (far and wide) for her perfect puddings; her crème caramels were light, smooth. With firm feet and a jiggly hip. But the only time I ever tried making one: Disaster. That was years ago; my crème caramel collapsed like a Victorian lady, and no amount of sniffing salt could revive it.

This time, I was determined to do better. Not just I, but Chotto-ma and I. Chotto-ma, my little egg beater. My crème caramel conspirator.

And we did better than better.

Ingredients

4 eggs
4 cups of thickened milk (to thicken: gently boil 8-9 cups of milk till halved)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4th cup sugar (I don’t like my puddings too sweet, so add more if you like)
4 tbs sugar (for the caramel)
Knob of butter

Heat oven to 150 degrees.
Beat the eggs well with the sugar.
Sieve the thickened milk, and mix it into the eggs. Add the vanilla extract.
Butter the sides of a round baking dish (mine was about 23 cm in diameter), and keep ready.
In a small pan, add about 1/2 cup water and the 3 tbs of sugar and put it on the heat. As the water evaporates, the sugar will start of caramelise. When is a lovely deep amber, but before it burns, tip the caramel into the baking dish. Swirl the dish so the caramel spreads and coats the bottom.
The caramel will soon cool and set. When it does, pour in the milk-egg mix.
Slip it into the lower shelf of the oven for 30-40 minutes (when you slide it out, there should be a firm jiggle, but not a sloppy jiggle in the middle of the pudding).
Take it out, let it cool and put in into the refrigerator overnight.
Next day, hold a serving plate on top of the dish and turn it upside down. The pudding should plop down, along with the lovely, caramel-y syrup.

  

 

While we could


Nothing ever happens when it drizzles, have you noticed? The day drizzles too. Heavy rain could turn a road into a river, but a steady drizzle just turns your day into a soggy pulp of nothing. Not that I want the river; I had enough of those back in India.


After we got married, D and I rented an apartment in Cornfield Road in Calcutta. Though the road didn’t run along eponymous fields of corn, it did harvest something else. Rainwater. Legend had it that Cornfield Road could get flooded on a dog’s pee.


We started our life there with one such legendary flood.



It was the monsoon of 1999, and the skies were crying like a colicky baby. The skies cried, the waters rose, and I watched from our first floor balcony with mixed emotions: half anxious adult, half excited child. The excited, less-practical me wondered how high the waters would rise; if it would give us future anecdotes to roll our eyes by. (Maybe even something to write about in a blog fifteen years later.)

In the evening, after a few hours of copious rain, we got a call from our landlady who lived a floor above us. Over the years, she had developed a nose for floods; she suggested we stock up on essentials from the neighbourhood grocer, while we could. Suspecting greater wisdom, D and I waded out in calf-deep water with useless umbrellas.


Next morning, we woke up to a kitchen stocked like a bomb-shelter. And the lull of gentle waves. We could’ve been in the Maldives.


When we stumbled bleary-eyed onto the balcony, a makeshift raft was floating past. A car that had been parked in front of our house was almost under water, it’s roof shining like an island. On the raft, three men stood grinning at the bloody adventure of it all. Full of cheerful foreboding, they pointed at the main road, towards Ballygunge Station.
“It’s much worse there, didi. Enough water to drown a child,” they shouted.
The woman in the house opposite ours poked her head out of her ground-floor window to inform us that the water was up to their bed. There were whispers of water snakes.

The drains were saturated, everyone said. The water could stay for days, our landlady predicted. So, later that morning, D and I packed a small overnight bag and decided to go to Ma-and-Baba’s for a couple of days. The water was too high for me to walk through now. D carried me on his back till the end of Cornfield Road, where the water level started to drop; a rickshaw carried us the rest of the way.


When we reached Ballygunge Circular Road and got off the rickshaw, there was not a blip of a flood. Not even a darn puddle. This was higher ground, the roads had already dried, and we looked like a pair of comics in our wet, rolled-up jeans. Clutching onto our little overnight bag with the expressions of the newly-evacuated.

Still, there’s something to be said for roads that turn into rivers: On a drizzly day in a different country, fifteen years later, it gives you something to write about when you have nothing much to write about.

In the oven, on days that drizzle

When its grey outside, I say cook a squash that looks like the sun. Stuff it with prawns and coconut milk and lemongrass and fresh coriander. Use your squash like a bowl, fill it with things and sit and watch it cook itself. It’s the beach.


Ingredients


1 small squash per person

For each squash:
6 large, raw prawns, cleaned
A few slivers of ginger
1 green chilli
Fresh coriander leaves
2 one-inch pieces lemongrass
Coconut milk
Salt
1 tsp vegetable oil
A slice of lime


Pre-heat oven: 150 degrees C.
Cut a lid off the squash, empty the inside. Smear the hollow with a sprinkle of salt and oil.
Put the lid back on and slide it into the lower rack of the oven for 30 minutes.

Take out the squash and check if the inside is cooked. If it’s not, put it back in for another 10-15 minutes. Don’t worry if the skin is charred – it gives the whole thing a beautiful flavour.

Once the inside is tender, open lid and put in the prawns, chilli, ginger and lemongrass. Top up the squash-bowl with coconut milk, covering the prawns. Add the coriander. Put the lid back on.
Put the squash in for just 10 minutes more.

Take it out, open lid and add a squeeze of lime. Serve the squash whole, or scoop out the insides and serve it in a bowl. 




 



He chopping, me stirring

It gets dark by 4 o’clock in the evening, and Venus lights up before the lampposts; she’s Chotto-ma’s favourite planet. We’re hanging between autumn and winter now, like the last leaves. Today, I ran downstairs just before the light died, to take a couple of photographs for you. I owed you autumn.

8.35 pm. D and I are sitting here listening to Mississippi John Hurt’s charred voice wafting out of a grainy recording. It’s strange how his songs can make the sun beat down on your back even on a cold night like this. “The angels laid him away. They laid him six feet under the clay”.

Dinner’s done, but there’s still some wine left in our glasses. The floorboards above us are creaking; Chotto-ma is pottering about upstairs. (So what if D left her tucked in bed an hour ago?) Her bedtime ritual, like everything else in our home, is split between D and me: Around 7 o’clock, I read her a book and sing her a song. She then goes upstairs with D. He reads her two more books – one in English, another in Bengali – before tucking her in. He then says goodnight and comes downstairs. And she untucks herself and gets on with her evening.

Downstairs, D and I get on with ours. We pour ourselves a glass of wine, cook dinner together, talk. Sometimes, we watch a movie, or read. Chotto-ma knows it’s Ma-Ba time, she’s known it for as long as she’s known anything else.

We don’t know what she does with her time, but she loves it as much as we love ours. Sometimes we hear her singing, or reading books to her dinosaurs, or talking to the planets hanging over her bed (they have distinct personalities; they also meet in orbit, marry and have baby moons). By the time we call it a night and go upstairs several hours later, she’s fast asleep in her room. She, along with six books and nine stuffed animals, all in a neighbourly heap on her bed

Tonight, our dinner was a garlicky, coconuty broth that I made up many years ago in Calcutta, in the tiny kitchen of our first rented flat in Jodhpur Park; it’s a dish that has withstood time, geography and repetition. Even in that shoebox kitchen, D would squeeze in to help me peel, chop and grate. We’ve been cooking together for so many years that it’s one smooth soup of a song. He chopping, me stirring. Me making the marinade, he smudging it on the meat. In tandem, amidst conversation, without a thought; he’s my soul-sous-chef. And tonight, as the pot bubbled and we cooked and stirred, Hurt plucked his guitar in the background and poured his sweet country soul into the broth.

Coconut & Garlic Prawn Broth

The broth, like most things from my kitchen, is done in minutes. It has the strong, punchy flavour that comes from raw garlic, and the mellow roundedness of uncooked coconut. In India, I would use fresh coconut, but here, it’s the easier-to-get dessicated version. This is also a broth I’ve cooked with chicken and lamb, instead of prawns, so take your pick.



Ingredients

150 gms large prawns, cleaned and peeled
1 white onion, halved, then thickly sliced, horizontally not vertically (I’m fussy about chopping)
1 tomato, chopped
Handful of coriander leaves, chopped

Coconut – 1 cup freshly grated, or 1/2 cup dessicated (and yes, I keep mine in an old talc tin)
2 large cloves of garlic
1 green chilli
Oil
Salt


In a food processor, blitz the coconut, garlic and chilli – the magic paste that makes all the difference.
Heat oil in a pan, and throw in the onions. Saute till transparent, but not brown. Add the tomatoes and give it a stir. Add 2 cups of water. When it starts boiling, add salt, and the prawns. Let it bubble for a minute, then take it off the heat. The prawns should be cooked, but still tender.
Transfer to your serving dish, and stir in the coconut paste and coriander. The natural oil from the coconut should rise to the top. Serve hot with steamed rice.


In step

Our heaters are on now. There’s one right below our living-room window, behind the brown buttoned sofa. As the heat rises up the radiator and against the glass, it makes the bare branches outside wobble like trees through tears. Hot air, cold glass: and the world dances. It always takes opposites to be in step.

D and I had our first mulled wine of the season yesterday; Chotto-ma had a hot chocolate topped with a mountain of cream and marshmallows. It was in the same old café, only it had twinkly lights hanging from its windows; it’s officially winter. I’m not opposed to the cold this year as I was the last. The grey light, cold wind and the shush somehow seems full of possibilities. In the way that silence has the possibility of song and conversation, or the ttup-ttup-ttup of a hammer. We had new windows fitted yesterday to keep the cold out, and now I can’t even hear the wind. The outside is playing out like a silent film, and inside, the three of us – she’s drawing a fish, D is playing his guitar, I’m writing to you.


We just finished lunch; on Sundays we always have a Bengali lunch. It’s my attempt at giving Chotto-ma a taste of our old Sunday afternoons in Calcutta. And we eat with our fingers, because there are some things that can be eaten no other way. You need to feel the texture, mix it with your fingers and bring it to your mouth like a prayer. Eating a Bengali meal with forks is like playing the piano in washing-up gloves. Chotto-ma now has The Art Of Eating By Hand down pat; she leaves her plate scraped spotless.

Today, we had a dal that Ma used to cook whenever she was in a hurry – a quick boil, a chop-chop, a sprinkle, and done. It’s perfect for the winter, and simple like most good things are. A combination of soft and crunchy, sharp and buttery, to bring out a flavour that dances just right.

Like I said, it takes opposites to be in step.

Ma’s Hurried Dal
A lemony, buttery lentil soup with raw red onions & tomato
 

Ingredients

1 cup red lentils
1 small red onion, chopped into little cubes
1 tomato, also chopped into little cubes
A generous dollop of butter
A generous squeeze of lemon
1 green chilli, chopped
Salt

Boil the lentils in one-and-a-half cups of water till cooked. Add a little more water if needed, but the consistency, when done, should not be too watery.
Take the boiled dal off the heat and throw in the rest of the ingredients.
Done.

[minute] Coffee With D

Remember {Midweek Monochrome}, the black-and-white photographs I once made a habit of? I don’t like habits; I always cut them short. I stopped Midweek Monochrome when it felt like they were becoming routine. Why I boxed myself into black-and-whites, I don’t know. I don’t like being boxed in; in the same way I don’t like sleeping in the middle bunk of a sleeper train. Claustrophobic.

[minute]
(noun) a period of time equal to sixty seconds or a sixtieth of an hour.
(adjective) extremely small.

I want to do photo posts, but without a monochromatic cloud hanging over my head. Mostly, they’ll be photos off my iphone, and as they come. Photos of the little ordinaries that I want to freeze and keep.

So, here’s [minute]. Think of it as you will: a sliver of a few seconds; an extremely small fragment of my day.

I’ll start it off with good coffee. A rich Colombian blend, for those of you who like details. The red leaf is a gift from Chotto-ma. The madeleines are shop-bought. And for no reason at all, D and I are talking in whispers.