Childhood, nostalgia and very berry sherbet

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In general, children in my little corner of the world didn’t grow up with abundance; in particular, the kind of childhood treats that my husband often took for granted growing up were few and far between for us. To put it another way, treats were indeed treats, rather than something which we could buy whenever we wanted. To us, chocolate was something to crave for several weeks (if not months) before we could get a bite of it. I never ever had a chance to eat the whole bar of chocolate as a kid. It was saved for several days, so I could enjoy it one precious cube at a time. After eating one cube, I would wrap the rest of the candy bar up neatly with the golden foil and save it for later. The same general procedure applied for ice creams – you could not just gobble up a whole cup of ice cream – you ate a few spoons and back it went into the freezer.

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During summer (which was pretty much two thirds of a year), we had ice cream-walahs in our para (neighborhood) who would come pulling their wooden carts, shouting “ice cream” “ice cream”. On the infrequent occasion that we had enough money to buy one, we ran with our life to catch him. They were cheap, super cheap but they did not feel cheap back then. I memorized all the flavors, colors and tastes. My favorite ones were orange and coconut. I can still feel the coconutty taste in my mouth, and I used to lick the orange ice cream as hard as possible so that my tongue took on the color completely. I would then go to Maa and to my friends and stick my tongue out at them.

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Anyhow, such were the simple joys of my childhood life. Happiness was an easy thing to achieve. The demands were simple (although they seemed huge back then) and when they were met, it felt like heaven. Life has moved on, moved far away from the simple joys that only children can know. Now, if I think about those ice creams, I think about carcinogens in the food coloring, diarrhea, calorie, hygiene and what not. Except the nostalgia, there is nothing happy. I became cynical. Whenever I buy food in the US, I actually don’t buy food anymore; it’s more like a chemistry field trip for me. Going through the list of chemicals, looking at the serving size and the calories, calories from fats, dietary fibers 3% vs 30%, artificial flavors vs. natural ones, hormone injection, homogenized or pasteurized, local or California-grown, artificial color, preservatives and organic or inorganic and the list is frustrating. I feel like I am losing the fun of eating. It’s so complicated. I wish I was uneducated and couldn’t read those labels. I wish I didn’t know what recombinant bovine growth hormones do to you, or that the red color in my “all-natural” strawberry ice cream is not from the strawberries but from beetroot extract.

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Finally, my cynical brain has also started refusing to appreciate store-bought frozen yogurts. They taste chemical-y. They definitely do not taste fresh. I still eat them once in a while but the craving is gone. I still crave for frozen yogurt and ice cream in summer but not the ones from chains with neon lights and toppings from cans or bottles. After hesitating for a year, I finally gave up and bought an ice-cream maker to pamper my cynical brain. To put in it, I picked berries from the local orchard, deep red raspberries, purple blueberries, blackberries, juicy, sweet and slight tangy. I never knew that delicious, additive-free ice creams, sherbets and frozen yogurts are so absurdly easy to make! If I close my eyes and let my mind wander a bit, I can almost see myself waiting for the long-lost ice-cream man, and even my cynical brain is happy once again.
PS: sherbet is a compromise between a sorbet and an ice cream. It’s creamier than a sorbet but less so than an ice cream.

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Recipe:

Ingredients:
Mixed berry: 4 cups (I used: Strawberry and Blackberry one cup each and two cups of raspberry). You can choose any combination. You can make it with one type of berry as well.
Sugar: 1-2 cups depending on how sweet/sour your berries are.
Salt: one pinch
Flavored vodka: 2 tablespoon (optional). I used lemon mint flavored. You can use flavored liqueur too.
Mint leaves: 6-8 depending on the size. If they are big leaves, use 4-5-ish.
Milk: 2 cups (I used whole milk). If you choose to use 2% milk, your sherbet will have more crystals. DO NOT use fat free milk, there is no point wasting the effort.
Lemon juice: 1 table spoon.

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• Blend the berries along with the milk and one cup of sugar to a smooth paste.
• Strain the puree through a sieve and discard the seeds and any solid chunk of the fruit.
• Taste for sweetness. If needed, add more sugar.
• Chop the mint leaves finely.
• Add the salt, the lemon juice, mint leaves and the vodka/liqueur and give it a good stir.
• Chill the mixture in the fridge for at least half n hour.
• Churn it in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instruction (usually 20-25 minutes).
• Freeze it in a shallow freezer box for several hours-overnight. Mine was frozen overnight.

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Strawberries romanoff, a light rereshing summer dessert

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Nowadays there is a theme going on in my family, neighbors, relatives and friends back home in India. The usual complaint is that it’s getting harder and harder to find domestic helps, as the demographic that was the traditional recruitment pool refuses to work as domestic helps anymore. Quite understandably, they would rather work in an air-conditioned mall or a departmental store, earn more money and have a structured career. Seems like the growing high-disposable income middle class with and the elite upper middle class is in a panic because the moment might be at their doorstep, when they have to drive themselves home from work, cook their own dinners and clean the dishes afterwards.
Why wouldn’t the so-called “lower classes” stop working as domestic help? They should have stopped a long time ago. They couldn’t as they did not have any choice. They are still not exactly spoilt for choice but it’s better than before. In “India Shining”, there are many new odd jobs which need more manual labor than education, allowing them to overcome their biggest disadvantage – lack of formal education.

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Somehow, I always empathized with the people who worked as domestic helps in our house, feeling that with the slightest vagary of fate, my mother or my father could have been in their place. Both my parents grew up in a very lower middle-class family where the chances were more that they would end up doing menial jobs. Fortunately they didn’t. But when I see my mom complaining about her domestic help, my mother-in-law shouting at her maids, see other people mistreating them, my heart sinks. Many of you will say, “Why don’t you do something for them? Why don’t you stand up for them and do something that will help them rather than writing a fancy article for my blog?” That is so true. I believe social work starts from home. I told my Maa a zillion times over the phone and in person that they are human beings, they deserve compassion, love and should be treated like any other human being. They are not disposable and cheap laborers. My Maa doesn’t abuse her maid or mistreat her but the expectation is unbalanced. A girl who is almost exactly my age, has a son who is in ninth standard, got married (probably long before she was ready for it) to a husband who deserted her after four months of their marriage and now works as maid for five houses, works as a night-care nurse during the night, lives in a falling apart rented apartment, what do you expect her to do? When I asked my Maa how old she was and learnt that she is around my age, I felt even worse. I faced my own share of struggles to rise above my destiny, to do my best, but my life is no way comparable to hers. Actually, I should not even compare my life with hers. When I was hungry, I had food on my plate, my parents worked hard to send me to a convent school, I married the man of my dreams, I haven chosen not to have children until I feel ready for it – the list of advantages is endless.

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I have tried talking to my mother in law too and tried to explain that the way she treats her domestic helps is wrong. But exactly like my mother, she has her set of excuses for her way of dealing with them. I’ll keep on trying even if my own family members refuse to understand what I say. I’ll not quit. There are many good things I’ve learnt after I moved here in the US. Possibly the biggest is that no job is menial. And for those of you about to say “We treat our domestic help Ramu kaka or Susma mashi as our own family” – let me be frank – most of you have no idea what you are talking about.
So, when I complain that the local gourmet store ran out of the Vermont Dairy crème fraîche I need for my strawberries Romanoff and get upset that I have to compromise with the mass-produced version from Trader Joe’s, I think I need someone to bang me on my head and remind me to be grateful for whatever I have in the first place. Gradually, I am trying to stop running after the utopian life we all dream about.

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Recipe:

Ingredients:

Crème Fraiche (full fat): one 8 oz tub or heavy whipping cream around one cup (I have used creme fraiche)

Any brandy of your choice: one and a half tablespoon (I used Kirschwasser/cherry brandy), you can use Cointreau or Grand Marnier too.

Sugar (brown or white, I prefer brown): to taste

A pinch of salt

Strawberries: around one cup (approximate)

Juice of one lemon

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One vanilla pod or one tablespoon vanilla flavor (try to use a good quality one).

  • Hull and slice the strawberries into medium slices. Add the lemon juice a little bit of sugar and half tablespoon of brandy and let them marinate for an hour in the fridge (optional).
  • Scrape the seeds out from the vanilla pod if using the pod.
  • Whip the crème fraiche or the whipped cream with the sugar, one tablespoon brandy, vanilla seeds or flavor and salt until nice and fluffy (or until soft peak forms).
  • Chill the crème in the fridge for at least an hour.
  • Divide the crème into serving glasses and top it up with the marinated strawberries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burruf has arrived from Boston and so has the strawberry lemonade

DSC_0772“Do you need ice?” the steward asked. “No, thanks.” I replied. “Are you sure?” he said, looking surprised. I said “yes, I am sure” and took a small sip from my can of orange juice. My immediate reaction was “excuse me, can I have some ice please?” The steward was overjoyed and said “I knew it!” Thus went the conversation during my first airplane flight in the USA. As I was unaccustomed to adding ice to every drink and even water, I didn’t realize that not wanting ice would be such a shock to an American.

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Historically, ice was not a daily necessity for Indians, even though ours is a tropical country and summer is the longest season. Outside of the Mughal court, which obtained it in limited quantities from Kashmir, ice became commercially available only during the British Raj, and even then it came all the way from the United States and was essentially a super-luxury item. As such, the average Indian probably never even got to see ice, but at least the wealthy Babus might have had a chance to have a glass of claret or chilled beer with their colonial masters when it first showed up in Calcutta in 1833 on the S.S. Tuscany. Hard to even imagine now, but the ice that those long-dead members of the city’s elite put in their drinks travelled four months from Boston to Calcutta.

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However, although ice itself may have been a rarity, the concept of ice making was not completely new to Indians. In ancient times, ice was made in small batches by setting very shallow pans of water out in far northern parts of the country where temperatures dropped below freezing at night throughout the year. The thin layer of ice thus formed was stored in pits dug in the ground to keep it frozen, and slowly the addition of successive layers would create a sizable block of ice. It was still extremely uncommon for the common man in most parts of the subcontinent to have ever seen ice during his lifetime. Even in 1833, the contemporary newspapers record that the arrival of ice caused great amazement among the ordinary natives of Calcutta, one of whom asked the American crewmen if it grew on trees or underground. Although by the first decades of the 20th century, ice was available increasingly from commercial ice factories, ice became a domestic item only with the advent of electricity and refrigerators, which in some parts of India (such as my husbands ancestral town of Dibrugarh) were unavailable even to rich people as late as the 1940s.

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Anyway, speaking of ice, the summer in my area is getting shorter every year; I am also in disbelief that the temperature is struggling to touch 80F in the beginning of August. But, I am determined; the vagaries of weather cannot beat my love for chilled drinks on long hot summer afternoons. Before the winter monster grabs you through ten layers of clothing, go ahead and make yourself a glass of strawberry lemonade. Summer is too short to wait.

Strawberry_lemonade

Recipe:

Take strawberries, blend them in a blender, really smooth. Roughly/finely chop some mint or basil leaves and drop them in the strawberry puree. Add the lemon juice and few slices/rounds of lemons. Make a simple syrup with sugar (1:1 sugar to water ratio). Cool it down and chill it in the fridge. Add the syrup to the lemonade and taste it. Adjust accordingly. Chill it in the fridge. Right before you want to serve, add cold water to your preference (I like my lemonade a little thick) and ice to the strawberry puree. You can strain the lemonade if you want. I poured it from a jug which has a strainer (sort of) in the cap. Garnish with few lemon wedges and fresh mint or basil leaves.

You can find an alternative recipe here where the basil leaves are blended with the strawberries.

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