Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Score! Enoch's B-day Cake 2014

As the birthdays draw near each year, the question of the cake starts to pop up more frequently.

What shape will we make this year? 

For Enoch it was easy.  The cake was to be a Football Game.  Being the FIFA World Cup year - and having Enoch read the papers each morning to find out about what happened in the English Permier League or in the FA cup, the cake almost chose itself.

Basic shape as simple as a rectangle.  Icing green for the grass.  Kind of cake?  Simple really -  Chocolate for the soil.  Garnishings - lots of Lego folk!

So we started on the night before with a basic chocolate cake.  I use the Landour Cookbook as my baking bible and so here is the recipe from page 238.

Chocolate Cake (by Alfie Campbell)  recipe for  a 13" x 9 " pan  (I double this)

Sugar  1.5 cups
Oil      1/3 cup (they say 6 tbsp of shortening)
Eggs   2
Maida 2 cups less 2 tbsp (I am not fussed about this)
Cocoa  6 tbsp (a little bit more doesn't harm)
Soda   1.5 tsp
Salt     3/4 tsp
Cold water  1.5 cups
Vanilla essence 1.5 tsp   

Like I said - I doubled this recipe and then added about 1.5 cups of raisins as well after it was all mixed.

How do I mix?  Well I mix the wet ingredients first, then sifted the dry ones together and folded them in using an electric egg beater / mixer 

The cold water is fun.  When I don't have enough in the fridge (many a bottle doesn't get refilled in the Eicher household) I use ice to get it cold.  The final 'dough' is really liquidy.  You wonder if anything solid will emerge at all.   But each time you bake this recipe - out comes a beautiful moist chocolate cake!

The cookbook tells to bake at 350 degrees farenheit - I put our trusty rusty oven (11 years old now) at about 170 centrigrade and keep turning it around every 20 minutes as one side bakes faster than the other.

After letting it cool - I make the icing:

Ground sugar (normal sugar ground in the mixie and then sifted)  1.5 cups
Butter   1 tbsp
some hot milk to help make it smooth and spreadable.

I usually make at least 4 batches of this 'basic white icing' - sometimes up to 6 or 7 batches.  Then I divide it up into small bowls and use food colouring to give it different colours.  I use small plastic bags to do the lettering - putting the icing in and stapling the other two sides and then cutting a small opening to squeeze out the lettering.

So for the Football Game cake, the basic shape is pretty easy (I found that my simple rectangle was not big enough - so I cut up the other cake into an annex and iced the whole thing green like so:

The next step is easy - to make the basic outline of the football field and the basic lettering.

Some concentration later this is what we had.  The family, in the meantime, was watching Tare Zameen Par in the living room - so I could hear the songs and dialogues while I bent over Enoch's cake in the kitchen.

I find putting the cake on a silver foil helps - in this case I used a serving tray as the base - and then put this on a large plastic bin cover for the stadium.

In the previous day I had worked with Enoch to make the stands and to find as many Lego mini-figures as possible.   We chose the two teams - vaguely modeling them after Chelsea Football Club (Enoch's current favourite) in blue and Arsenal in the Red and black.

I must say that since Enoch spends most of his time with the Legos on the floor - we did a two step washing and cleaning process.  All the mini-figures got washed and dried first.  And then those who were going to 'take to the field' got a second go around - so that we had clean little feet walking over our icing!

Enoch made up a set of goal posts based on the size that I had put the white outlines of.  We moved the stands into place and lo and behold - a whole game sprung to life!

As we zoom into the stadium we cannot help noticing that the audience is eclectic to say the least.  There seem to be folks who have come from far away for this match.

Maybe even from galaxies, far far away. 

Clearly the thrill of attending such an important match - to celebrate after all the 11th Birthday of a very special young lad called Enoch means that you can use your warp drive and jolly well truck it across the known space-time continuum to be there 'in the flesh' as it were.

One section of the fans - known for their rudeness to visiting teams - has to be fenced off for the safety of the players (both home and visiting sides alike!).  That the fence looks like large candles must be part of the whimsy of the current security chief - perhaps a way to soften the blow of being separated from their beloved football team even though they have loyally come to the stadium!

But let's leave the fans and move on to the pitch!

As the late afternoon sun streams across the ground - what a game we have at hand!

The blues are in total control of this passage of play.  The veteran Chelsea striker Samuel Eto is moving foward decisively with the ball with a crowd of red shirts targeting him.

An out and out striker - Eto loves running with the ball and taking a crack at the goal.

But then again there is not just one player on each team - being Enoch's birthday there should be 11!  Given the size of the cake - we have 10 players in the field plus the referee in the corner (and the two goalies of course).

Eto's team mates are also making a run for it!  We  are here - pass square one of them shouts - in French so that the Cameroonian striker can hear them over the roar of the crowd.

For some reason the players don't want to run to the edges of the field - where the large letters are on the ground - preferring to do their footballing in the centre.

All of this is of course happening in a few heart-stopping seconds of frantic play.  The full time whistle in painfully close to being blown and both teams are giving their everything to get a result from this game.

Our camera operators show us how well Eto's team-mates have managed to get themselves into free space as the master dribbler seems to have drawn all attention from the red-shirts to himself! 

What will it be?  Will Eto hear his team-mates and pass the ball over to them like he used to in his FC Barcelona days of tiki-taka-fever?

Or will he stay true to his died-in-the-blood lone-wolf poacher instincts as a striker - and just muscle forward to take a pot-shot at the goal.

As the camera zooms in we see the world from Samuel Eto's eyes - yes there are others behind him and to his side - but he has the ball and there are only 3 defenders in front of him and then there is the huge goal opening up like a mouth that must be fed.

Time is ticking down and the man in green could blow that whistle at any time now - so this means that  it's going to be Samuel Eto vs the World.  A shot is already being coiled up as he shimmies his way towards glory...
What finally happened in the game will probably remain unknown forever.   Just at this moment - where everything seemed frozen in time - and a myriad possiblities flowing out of the next decisive seconds of play - at that moment everything suddenly changed.

The security fence was on fire.  Those candle like posts really lit up - and the whole stadium was bathed in the eerie glow of the 11 burning columns.  And then there seemed to be giants around - singing loudly in the darkness - and finally a large whooshing sound as a giant in a green jersey blew out the fire at the end of the song.

Would Eto have managed to swing that ball through the fence of defenders ahead of him? 

We will never know - since his magical moving forward was stopped right there...  frozen in time and space.

And what's more, the giant in green then took out a huge knife and actually cut open a big portion of the turf!  And before we knew it, the game had to be abandoned as the hallowed ground of the stadium - the pitch on which many a game of sweat and blood and tears had been shed - was carted off and cut up into cubes and transported into the wild blue yonder!

And so the football game ends.  The pitch cubed and wolfed down by a bunch of lads at Enoch's birthday party (we bought a few 'eggless' muffins for the hard-core vegetarians out there - only one showed up in the end).  Another year of cake-art-fun is over!

Monday, 24 February 2014

Butterflies on the Roof of the World

Last night Sheba told me to take a day off.  I did.  And what a beautiful day it was.
After a sleep-in till 9, a leisurely breakfast with Sheba, Amma and Appa I had a few errands to run (our Nano has developed a rather nasty rattle so off it went to the service station).  But then off I went into the wild blue yonder.

We are so blessed to be right next to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park - a total treasure of a place.  Just after noon I was walking up the trail to the ridge of the Pokhran Hills that straddle our part of Thane.

It was hot and dry, but I had layers of sunscreen and a hat and a water-bottle.  And I was rewarded with the fire-cracker flowers of the Silk Cotton tree  (Bombax ceiba) greeting me at every turn as I put distance between me and the city. 

Once on the top I was back in Narnia.  Not a single person around.  I wandered along the ridge, past the point we normally stop at, and further up.  The silence was complete.

On one side I could look out over the hazy clumps of skyscrapers that land-hungry Mumbai has caused Thane to break out in.  On the other side only hills and forest and the odd small rain-fed field that some of the park-dwelling adivasi inhabitants cultivate in the monsoons.

More red flowers beckoned - this time the 'flame of the forest'  (Butea monosperma).

 I was looking for my own private cathedral.  Walking further up the ridge in the quiet of the hot noon, it was shade that I was after.  I found a new spur going due west and decided that it was time to leave the beaten track. 

Off into the woods I wandered until I found a shady spot, cleared the rocks, set out my blanket and got ready for an afternoon of rest.   This is what I had to look up too as I lay down:

 And this is the delightful book that I had to take me to another place and time as the sun travelled from its apex down toward distant seas in the west.

Sheba had told me not to do any deep thinking.  I complied gratefully to her loving advice.  Hence a book that Dad gave me for Christmas - seen here with my excellent lunch of 2 Mussoorie-Prakash-Store-Peanut-Butter-and-Stawberry-Jam Sandwiches and Barfi from Enoch's 11th birthday.  One of the sandwiches had already happily made its way into my innards and the leaf had fallen from my shade-tree when this shot was taken:

 Butterflies on the Roof of the World tells the story of Peter Smetacek - whose father came from Silesia (a largely German-speaking part of what is now the Czech Republic) as a refugee fleeing the Nazi occupation just as WWII broke out.  Finding himself in Calcutta he started a new life here and ended up living in Bhimtal in the Nainital district - close to where I had done my field research for my forestry studies in 1993.

Smetacek senior was wild about butterflies, and moths.  And his son Peter took up this wonderful avocation from when he was 2.5 years old.  The book is a delight, taking you through a magical childhood and winging you across the country (especially in the Western Himalayas) in search of these amazing insects.

Dad had met Peter last year at the Mussoorie Writers Festival that Woodstock School hosted.  Along with Dad's Kodai school mate Romulus Whittaker (the 'snake man') and other distinguished out-doors-men-and-women, Peter had read out from his book which mapped out his passion for butterflies.

Dad had collected butterflies in his Kodai school days and donated his collection to Eastern Michigan University.  He gave his prized butterfly books to his alma mater - Taylor University.  Years later, when I was a student at Taylor I actually found 2 of them as they were being discarded from the library!  I retrieved these beauties and brought them back to Dad.  He in turn decided last year to give them to Peter when he met Peter and heard about the Butterfly Research Centre that Peter runs.

So Peter gave Dad two autographed copies of his memoir.  One of which I devoured this afternoon.  The other of which Dad is just coming to the final chapters of in Mussoorie. 

I came down the mountain after having travelled into new worlds.  The flapping flitting creatures are their in my minds eye.  Peter's motor-cycle adventures across the Himalaya are also there with me.  I spent an afternoon in total silence other than the birds around me. 

As I left my jungle hide-away I came across this gift next to the path:

 And then it was good-bye to the trees and the sky.

And hello to the joy of the city.

I have come back refreshed - blessed by a wonderful wife who has gone out of her way to feed my soul.  I take precious bits of the glory of creation along with me, images flickering in my mind.  A quietness and joy in my heart.  And am very thankful.