Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Of Birthdays, In Real Life & Blogwise

I don't usually celebrate personal milestones in public but religiously put out blog anniversary posts every year, today being the fifth year since I started writing this blog.

I want to indulge in some birthday memories, though, real-life birthday ones. The only cakes we got in our town were the brown, fruit cake kinds with hard icing, hard pink, green and purple roses, silver balls and twisty little candles. In the absence of mothers, aunts and grandmothers who did not make cakes but only Indian sweets and "hots" (savouries), I suppose we looked forward to this cake. Even if the flowers were solid enough to have claimed a tooth or two, that's what we had and cherished.

Those were the days when a 'return gift' wasn't known, and asking a guest to the birthday party, "What gift have you brought me?" would result in a slap, never mind you were only five or six or that it was your birthday. Grandmothers would kit us out in embroidered frocks and there would perhaps be a trip to the temple.

At school, the only time we were allowed to wear "colour dress" (not the uniform) was on Saturdays and birthdays. At Assembly, the teacher presiding would ask if there were any birthday girls or boys and one, two or three, sometimes urged by their friends, would stand up hesitantly and make their way to the stage, upon which the Music Master would begin strumming his guitar and all of us would sing "Happy Birthday to You!" I remember not owning up to a birthday one year, my cousins who studied in the same school telling my Grandmother about it, and my Grandmother scolding me for it. Why had I been so shy? Was it also the birthday I wore a white dress with blue, red and yellow clowns all over? Maybe. I couldn't be sure.

Stage or not, the 'distributing sweets' routine was all-important, and after the first period began, the birthday girl or boy would distribute sweets to the entire class, to the teacher, and then accompanied by another, go and give the headmistress some, and maybe the other teachers too. A classmate's birthday was also the first time I saw a pink guava - her folks brought guavas in big baskets and distributed them to the entire school, and one of them was pink. The popular sweets distributed were "Goldspot" sweet (orange hard-boiled candy) or a green-wrapped toffee. The thing to do, after you'd popped the sweet into your mouth, was to twist the wrapper into what was supposed to be a dancing girl. The green wrapper was particularly prized. For one birthday, I remember asking everyone to give me back their wrappers. (I'm cringing, childhood is no excuse for such behaviour.) One boy refused, I prepared to cry, and our teacher stepped in, saying she would give me hers. I don't know what I did with them. Not all could refuse a birthday girl, however ungracious, could they?

In the evening was the party, with the cake, streamers, balloons, friends, cousins, uncles, aunts, neighbours. There were home-made sweets and savouries, or some would be ordered from the Udupi hotel in the town centre. There was jelly and ice-cream in little globe-shaped containers. There were no games, no party hats, and gifts brought could be as simple as a packet of biscuits. The cake was cut, food eaten, and everybody went home after an hour or two. Till one was eleven or twelve and deemed old enough for the parties to stop. Truly old, because at thirteen, I had just one friend over and that was to pour my heart out to her over an evil classmate.

And now from nostalgia to the Oscar speech: Thank you, readers, bloggers, family, friends, blog aggregators. You keep this blog going, and this blog keeps me going.

Here's my first anniversary post, and here's another nice post on how children celebrated their birthdays in the Seventies and Eighties.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Salad Days, Green in Judgement, Hot in Chilli*

You're not an original!" screamed the Internet back at Sra.

"Oh, alright, alright," said Sra, sullenly. "How many other crazed foodies do you think would call their dish cucumber noodles? Well, quite a few, it looks like," she muttered, teetering on the edge of a sour soliloquy, pausing to wonder if they had also tempered olive oil with red chillies and garlic and seasoned it with zatar, and all this only after adding some zucchini noodles to the cucumber.

And that, dear audience, is exactly what I did.

Peeled three tired old cucumbers and again peeled their flesh into strips - these are what I - and several other foodies - call noodles. Did the same with one tired old zucchini which hid its fatigue very well. (Tired meant that I had to discard quite a few bits.)

Chopped up an onion and added it to the above.

Heated a splash of extra-virgin olive oil and tempered it with two red chillies and two cloves of garlic

Added about 2 tsp of zatar, a splash of red wine vinegar and some salt

Tossed it all together in a bowl and let it rest an hour or two until dinner.

Then I tasted it and discovered it was one chilli too hot for comfort. And I'm no wimp when it comes to chillies.

But I ate it up anyway because no one else would - there were two other diners - and adding some dal to the salad reduced the heat.

You could do that too. It's also my tried-and-tested substitute for rice in rice-and-dal - I've done it before. You needn't peel the cucumber into strips for that, though, just cut it up regular.

And my favourite use for zatar is to use it on baked potatoes.

*I'm no Cleopatra, so I hope Shakespeare will at least forgive me if not appreciate me for twisting his words this way ...