When the Putlizer Publishers asked me to write a preface for my new cooking book, they asked me to entail my ‘cooking philosophy’ for my readers. When I told the board, in the most obvious and casual manner possible, that I didn’t have one, they raised a brow – a look that was both pathetic and astounded, like I were an outlandish animal – as if it was a sin to not have a cooking philosophy, like cooking philosophies are the most common possessions in the world, like a soul or a pencil – everyone has one.
It took me a long, excruciatingly tiring conversation with Jenny, my editor, to convince her that I wanted my preface to be a letter to my grandmother. So while I hope that you do not regret Jenny’s decision, let me tell my readers a little about Granny.
My grandmother lived in (obviously) the most grandmotherly warm cottage on a snow-capped, treeless hill in Norway. One summer on our way to her house, my parents died in a fatal accident. By default, I was restored to her home, and forced to live there ever-since I was three.
I was a grumpy kid to parent; I hated my life, I hated Norway, and everything about it. I hated how it snowed so much, and rained so little, and how everything about it assertively said ‘White Christmas’. My life was the ultimate dream for many, nevertheless, I detested it with all my heart. Only until, of course, Granny magically sprinkled my life with (the most scrumptious) sugar dust. Literally.
I categorically remember that afternoon, if the foggy post-noon daylight of Norway may be called an afternoon, when I came back from school, having miserably failed in a class test, hating my life a little more than the day before. I grouchily sat down on the breakfast table and pulled myself a glass of water. I snapped at Granny’s simple question “How would you like some food?” My irritation was bluntly obvious. Nonetheless, Granny, wrapped in wool and tight cooking gowns, pushed a warm baking tray filled with pink macaroons towards me.
Till this day, I cannot define bliss better and more munificently.
Discovering that my grandmother was the best cook in the entire world, and easily the entire universe, was my cue to start loving my life as it was. I would spend hours in the kitchen watching her knead dough, beat eggs, cook cream, roast beef and grate cheese, and I was most certainly duly entertained.
Granny, I clearly remember tasting your red velvet cake for the first time ever. I remember how the cream melted on my mouth, and how the zest of the tangy cheese you had used had twitterpated my taste buds. I remember the perfect roundness of the cake, and the uniqueness of the powdered batter. If flamboyant obsession and starry ardour may be called love, then yes, in a pool of love had I dived, and it tasted and felt delicious, if deliciousness can be called a feeling at all.
So as I scrunch on the leftovers of my red velvet today, which, in fact, the guests called a ‘Near Perfect’, and type this floating preface, I am reminded of everything you ever taught me. I remember how you never revealed to me the recipe for any of your dishes, or never answered how to achieve the perfect thickness in the mango smoothie or the flawlessness of the blueberry soufflé, yet one event stands most distinct amongst all. I remember how I had, almost furtively, cut a tiny slice of your pastry and stored it in my pencil box. When you asked why, I had innocently answered that I wanted to preserve your recipe forever. Ha! How you had laughed!
You smiled, and kissed me on my forehead.
“You must make your own recipes.” You said, and spent the rest of the day cleaning the mess I had created trying to imitate the pastry souvenir.
Granny, if thank you were a big enough word, I’d say it. So wherever you are, I hope you read this book, and you read this sad little, poorly phrased Writer’s Note, and that you flip through the recipes of this book – not like you need them, but because I direly want you to see the strong inspiration they draw from you. Everything I have ever cooked in my entire life has been an effort to create a version of your cooking, and it was perhaps in my efforts to achieve a close clone of your recipes that I found many of my own. Recipes which people around the world have grown to love, adore and eat.
It is only today that I know, that even if I were to copy your recipes by proportion, I would never achieve the perfectness that you did, because your secret ingredient was always your love and flare for food; it is as if your very fingers added taste to your dishes.
Granny, thank you for giving me my delightful childhood. I hope I have succeeded in giving a little life to our large shared world of baking and cooking. I hope that when you see the tiny speck of a success in me, you see a reflection of your wonderful parenting, and in my humble recipes, a flicker of your own craft.
Hope the stars shine brightly in Norway.
Your Loving Granddaughter