All gone

We woke up on Sunday and looked out of the windows to find all the houses and trees gone. The parked cars, the pavements, gone. The church across the street gone, its moorish spires stolen by diaphanous djinns. The sky no more, sucked up into itself.

Outside our windows, the world was whipped cream. Thick, white. You could dip a finger in. Or, if like us you were walkers of a less sane mind, you could put your shoes on. At 7.40 am on a winter morning, you could put your shoes on.

You could walk through familiar streets as if for the first time; fog makes a first time of everything. It makes everything seem as secretive as half-told stories. Houses whisper, people in them sleep and dream strange dreams. Nothing stirs expect the hours.


We walked for a long time; I don’t know how long. By the time we decided to head back home, the fog had begun to lift. Headlights passed. A tree appeared in autumn leaves like a girl in gold lamé returning home from her Saturday night. We could see the church now, its neon sign reminding people to be saved on Sundays. The djinns had returned its spires before the people at Sunday Mass noticed anything amiss. A man stood by the park in a clown costume drinking coffee.

When we climbed the stairs home, the world was returning, sharpening. There would be other fogs, other out-of-focus fairytales. For now, there was coffee as dark as the outside was white. And pear cake with cream. Thick, white.

Pear & Yoghurt Cake with Orange Sour Cream Icing

This is a throw-everything-in-a-bowl kind of cake, so the recipe that follows is unconventional. As in, it may seem suspiciously whimsical and simple for a cake, but hang in there. It will rise to the occasion. It’s the best cake I’ve baked in a while, and certainly my favourite icing by far.

Ingredients

For the cake:
2 pears, not too soft, nor at its firmest; peeled
2 cups of plain flour
2 tsps baking powder
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups plain set yogurt (not Greek)
3/4 cup coarse brown sugar
2 heaped tbsps butter at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla essence

For the icing:
600 ml sour cream (that’s usually 2 small tubs)
1/2 – 3/4 cup white castor sugar (adjust to taste)
Grated zest of 1 small orange

First the icing:
Hang the sour cream in a clean cloth to strain the water out. This should take an hour.
In a bowl, add sour cream, sugar and half of your orange zest. Give it a good mix till smooth. Taste and add more sugar if needed. Keep aside.


Now the cake:
Pre-heat your oven to 170 degree C (350 degree F).
In a large, deep bowl sieve the flour and baking powder together. Throw in the sugar.
Crack two eggs in the middle. Add the butter. Pour in the oil and the vanilla essence.
Now, with your hands, or a wooden spoon, give it a mix in a nice clockwise motion.

Into this tight batter, add yogurt. Mix till it’s a lovely smooth consistency.
Hold the pears above the bowl and with a knife scoop slivers of it into the cake batter. Let the juices drizzle in. Gently fold the pear into the batter.
Grease a medium (9-inch) cake tin with butter, and pour the batter in. Bake for about 40-45 minutes.

Cool completely. Then slather the icing on top, and sprinkle with remaining zest.
Refrigerate for about an hour before serving. Enjoy!

Walk along The Backs

When the sun comes out, we get greedy about the outside. We take long walks, drink beer amidst buttercups and cow dung, choose restaurants that have tables in the sun, watch Chotto-Ma scoot off to pet other people’s dogs, and comment obsessively on how spotlessly, madly blue the sky is.

We go overboard. We do all the things that people do in sun-starved countries; except take our clothes off to sunbathe in the park, because we’re Indians and born with all this lovely tanned, subcontinental skin. (I had this awful urge to write ‘tanned when canned’, but I didn’t. Except now I just did. The sun’s gone to my head, I rhyme.)

I thought I’d take you along the walk we walked recently; it’s been a while since I took you on a Cambridge walk, hasn’t it? The last time, it was a different season, a different light.

I also thought I’d cook you something weekendy: I made cheese fritters with a simple mix of ingredients I had at home, but had no plans of blogging about (so, iPhone photos again). But it was really good, so even though the photos are less-than-good, they had to be shared with you. The fritters have a ripe, peppery flavour – Camembert, rocket, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes. It’s wonderfully melty in the middle, crisp on the outside and a few minutes in the making.

And so that was what it was. A long walk through the morning, and the rest of the day on the sofa, the sun slanting in. An old movie, a cup of tea, a plate of fritters and a floor strewn with Lego.

First, the walk:

It’s a series of iPhone photographs, just as they were shot; in bright sunlight. They’re too obvious, too unsubtle for my liking, but I’m hoping you won’t mind.

We live in one of the prettiest cities in England, and Cambridge, in summer, is something special. This walk goes past the River Cam, around The Backs, skimming the colleges, through old alleyways and out into the marketplace which sits at the centre. The Backs – here you can see the backs of all the colleges in one grand row, sloping off into the river – is my favourite strip of the city.

And this is where our walk ended: in front of King’s College where cycles leant in patient queue; next to cafes where coffee and croissant beckoned.

You must be hungry.

So now, the fritter: 

Camembert & Rocket Fritters

Ingredients:

125 gm Camembert or Brie, roughly cut into pieces
2 cups rocket, roughly chopped
3 pieces of sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
A generous sprinkle of coarsely ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
2 tbs of flour
1 tsp fine semolina
1/2 cup milk
Salt

Mix in all the ingredients except the milk. Then pour the milk in, a bit at a time to make a thick batter.
Heat oil in a deep pan. Lower heat and drop in blobs of the batter. Fry till brown.
Transfer on to a a sheet of kitchen paper, and then onto your serving dish. Drizzle with a squeeze of lemon. Bite in.

Araf, araf, araf

That’s ‘slow’ in Welsh. Slow, slow, slow.

Slow, like the old train that trundled up Snowdon. Slow like the smoke that wafted out of the chimney of our bed-&-breakfast. Slow like a sheep’s chew.

Araf.

Because you want the time to last. Even as your car speeds through mountain roads, and curves around coastlines, you slow down. You melt a little bit, your shoulders lose their angles, and you breathe in-in-in. It’s atrocious, the sheer beauty of Wales. Fierce, sharp and gentle, all at the same time.

D, Chotto-ma and I spent a week winding through North Wales. The first half in the mountains, and the second along the coast.

I’ve been waiting to share the week with you, so hop on, strap yourself in, and slow down.

The mountains
From Betws-y-coed, to Llanberis, up to the summit of Mount Snowdon. And down past mountain streams that giggled like a child and waterfalls that fell downdowndown. Faeries floated past I think.




The coast

We started with Portmerion – Wales’ unashamed ‘riviera’ – which makes you walk around with a silly smile on your face.

Then on to the tiny fishing village of Aberdaron. From Aberdaron to Porthdinllaen, where a pub called the Ty Coch Inn stood like an old weathered boat on a small smuggler’s cove. Tucked away from all the world. Offering warm, baked pots of food to only those who ventured far enough to find it.

Our Welsh week ended at Llandudno – the lively Victorian seaside town that leaned against the mountains and stretched its feet into the sand.

Araf. Araf. Araf.

 


















Walk, and you shall have bread

Having lived in England for some time now, I have come to hang different shades of grey on different pegs. Today is SoftSilverGrey. That’s grey, dipped in a fondue of white, gooey light. And it would be as delicious if the trees were not bending over like pliant servants to a despotic wind.

You know I have a thing for pale light. I’ve beaten that drum before. But not when the wind cuts through my clothes. That’s when I cover my toes, make myself a very big cup of coffee, give myself a piece of chocolate, and burrow in.

And I write a post about another day. A Saturday. When we went for a walk around Ely. A little old town, with a big old cathedral. A short train ride away from Cambridge.

Some time ago, I took photographs of Ely covered in snow. So, now that the season has turned (or, darn well should), I thought I’d show you some of what lay under all that white.

Right in the middle of the town stands the cathedral where Colin Firth stuttered through his King’s Speech. And around the shadow of that cathedral lies a meadow with ponies and wildflowers.

The town has a little ‘courtyard’, where the bustling Saturday Market sets up its stripey stalls. Stalls with coloured pots and cured meat. Tea leaves* and table cloths.

From here, a road slides down to the River Ouse, where boats bob with flocks of greedy geese. Often, these boats are homes to artists. And come summer, they sometimes open up their little doors and turn their tiny floating room into an art gallery. You can walk in to paintings propped up on the bed, on chairs, and next to the window through which a duck peeps in.

Next to the boats is a pub with views of the water, and taps full of good beer. And a riverside restaurant that cooks lovely, seasonal British food.

After the cathedral, Ely’s next claim to fame might just be a tearoom called The Peacock. With it’s wall full of Wisteria, it’s sublime almond tea and the softest, moistest apple & walnut cake. All soaked in old world English charm. It even has a toilet that’s worth a queue.

Walk back up to the high street for its charity shops and coffee shops. Turn the corner to the King’s School where kids walk in with their violin cases.

All around town are dogs on a walk. And heads of white hair.

But here’s my best bit of Ely – the loveliest little bookstore, like the ones that used to be. Three floors of books, signed first-editions shelved in nooks and crannies, a charming children’s alcove, the narrowest wooden stairs, coffee table books under old oak tables, large sashed windows, and cups of tea.

Yes, it was a long walk, wasn’t it? A full day’s walk. The kind of walk that should, could, end with a fruity-savoury bread, warm out of the oven. A bread that’s sweet, and salty, and very melty-cheesy.

And I did mean to lay it all out for you. Really I did. Complete with a pot full of tea, gingham napkins and flowers on the table.

But this post has stretched so very long, I’ll have to keep it for next time. Walk you did, and bread you shall have. I promise. And it’ll be worth the wait. I promise.

I’ll have the bread baked, and recipe written. And maybe, when you take yours out of the oven, the clouds will part, and a grey day will turn sunny.

Yeah, it’s that kind of bread.

(* To the lovely girls at Samovar Tea House, if you’re reading this: I tried emailing the photographs to info@samovarteahouse.co.uk, but they come bouncing right back. There might be something wonky there. Sorry!)

The thirteenth year

Yesterday was our 13th anniversary. D and I have been together for 16 years, and married for 13. And right about now, you’re starting to get a little worried that this is going to be that kind of post. The kind were I look back, and tell you about all the wonderful times we’ve had together. Retrace our thirteen-year journey. Then end with the recipe of a heart-shaped cake with a rosebud border.

Stay, I promise won’t. I’ll take you on another walk instead. It started with D waking me up at 6.30am on Sunday morning with a ‘Happy anniversary!’. When that failed to wake me up completely, he said ‘Breakfast at Ottolenghi!’. And, that woke me up.

We took the train to the best breakfast in London. And the day that followed kind of sums up our marriage. It was Sunday, loose-limbed and relaxed. The sky was absurdly blue. We decided to pick tube stations on a whim, then get off the trains without a plan. Surprise ourselves. Do whatever took our fancy.

It was a day that we wouldn’t change an hour of.

 ~~~

8.30am. An early morning walk through Islington when the streets were as bare as the trees. When the flower shops were just waking up for business, and the bakers were baking their breads.

9.30am. Eating the breakfast that makes Guardian lose its calm. By the chef who is a little bit worshipped. Food by Yotam Ottolenghi. And that’s Plenty said.

11.30am. A few stations and a couple of miles later, we found ourselves walking by the river in Richmond, sitting at a Bavarian cafe, and stumbling into a little courtyard market cooking fresh Morroccan food.

2 o’clock. Tapas for the tired, vino for the thirsty. Grilled chorizo and rocket. Gambas, soaked and sizzling in roasted garlic and chilli olive oil. Wilted spinach with raisins and pine nuts. Bread that reminded me of my childhood – toasted directly on fire, and burnt around the edges. Eggs with artichokes and serrano ham. And of course, patatas bravas.

4pm. Coffee by the roadside. A walk to work off that patatas. A train home. And just in time for Sherlock in ‘The Reichenbach Fall’.

A day that we wouldn’t change an hour of.