Cookie-Dough

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I come back from work, worn out and spent. Each night, I wake up mid-sleep, as if I had never gone to bed.

I walk to the kitchen and start pulling out cans and jars. My eyes don’t even have to see where my hands are going anymore, I remember what bottle lies on which stack just as I know the alphabet.

I follow your recipe to the dot.

The same amount of flour, a cup full of sugar, little chips of chocolate hidden amidst the dough like gems in sand.

But I could never bake them like you did. So by the time I finish, the house starts to feel very empty again, without you and your sweet-smelling cookie dough.

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A Baked Epistolary

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Dear Granny

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

Margatha Spiegelson

Eating Velvet

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They say trivial things break chronic writer’s blocks the best, just like quick remedy and warm soup. Even though in today’s conundrum I explore an itsy-bitsy little theme of interest, it is something that comes from the heart, being the food lover that I am.

One of the biggest tragedies existent in this cruel world of today is possibly one’s inability to cook while having a warm taste for food and an appetite that returns like a boomerang. A good food-y does not necessarily cook well, but this can often, in moments of parody be quite a pandemonium.  After all, food is one of your best inanimate friends. Fizzy, buttery and peppered popcorn for heartbreak, cold ice cream with espresso for moments of ecstatsy, curled and tasty noodles for cold evenings and pancake mix that makes for a perfect early sunny morning. Yes, I relate better with minute maid foods that can be cooked in the microwave (read: inability to light the stove) and no, I did not mention lasagne, Mexican prawns or crème brulee (read: not much of a, if I may say so, fancy food-y).  

But when you leap from cooking French fires to something as precious and challenging as baking a red velvet cupcake, it heats things up a bit. No, it is not out of leisure that I do so, or out of some burning vehemence to cook, it is for my sister’s grand 21st birthday. Consider this a suicide note of dramatic fashion: I shall either cook amazingly delicious and soft velvet cupcakes or die in the effort of eating the [more probable] undercooked, chemically stained, sugarless, inedible muffin lookalikes. In light of the latter, understand that the baker must verify under oath the demeanour of the flour he sold me, the cheesemonger must vow similarly and the velvet is ought to be the proof of the pudding. In the fortunate event of the court finding the truth of the matter, the velvet must be convicted…oh and I have my doubts you might want to pull up a good show with the whipped cream, and then, the world shall know that it was but a stealthy velvety conspiracy against me and I happen to be not so bad a cook. Smell the sarcasm, and blow your nose if you will.

Also, I must squeeze in a little word of respect for Jerome K. Jerome, a man who can wander into the strangest and most bizarre of retrospects known to the literary world and make it seem effortless, lyrical and acquittal all the same. One, who has today, influenced greatly my pen and type pad (the ring of which I happen to like).

I prepare the vanilla, the buttermilk, the food colouring and the pretty eggs, I victual my vial of courage and I get set to bake. The course of this advent I cannot determine, dear reader, yet with all my heart I hope I survive this baking, hitherto I remain proud and contented to have made through an otherwise chronic writer’s block.