Thursday, December 20, 2018

Christmas Cake memories and a simple recipe

For the longest time , I didn’t associate the traditional Christmas cake with a Christian celebration, but an Armed Forces celebration. Part of it was because I grew up as an Army kid, travelling around the country, as my father got posted from Delhi to Punjab, to Maharashtra. And no matter what part of the country we were, we would always have Christmas cake. It all begins during Diwali. Again, I am not sure if it’s an Armed Forces tradition, or just a North Indian tradition (because I don’t see much of it now that I live in Maharashtra and Goa ), but people loved gifting boxes of dry fruits along with an equally large box of fire crackers. The fire crackers were sent back, since we didn’t burst them , green Diwali and all, the pistas were devoured even before the wrapping came of the other dry fruits. An Army Diwali  means not just one box of dry fruits, or two, but entire regiments and battalions of dry fruit boxes. And so at Diwali, my mother would get all the left over dry fruits chopped, and soak them in Rum and Brandy bought from the Army Canteen. So you see, the two main ingredients of baking a Christmas cake; rum and dry fruits were present in abundance in almost every Armed Forces home. Also the entire chopping of what seemed kilos of dry fruits needed an army of workers, again something which was a privilege we enjoyed in the defence colonies. It’s easy to see, why I thought Christmas cakes was something of an Army/Navy /Airforce tradition rather than belonging to a religious celebration.
In the Armed forces, people of different region and religion , all seem to be mixed and moved around the country like a bag of pot -pourri, and all that you have in the end is a fairly homogenous group of odds and ends. And so here we were, Bengali hindu Brahmins, baking the most fragrant and indulgent Christmas cake, a recipe my mum learnt from another Armed Forces wife.
Cut to now, and it’s been over 15 years since my father left the Army, and yet , year after year, Ma makes  5 , sometimes 6 batches of Christmas cake, the prep for which begins at Diwali, and the cakes begin baking by first week of December all the way to mid January, depending on who needs to be gifted the cakes.
Even after baking them, the cakes are carefully wrapped in silver foil to keep the aromas in, and lovingly watered with rum every few days. There is a Bengali word they use for it ‘cake Moje jabe’ , I guess it means the cake will mature, or marinate in its juices. And in the last 16 years that I have been out of home ( I left home at 18 to stay in the medical college hostel, and then various hostels across the country , Goa and Madurai) but I have always received my Christmas cake , wrapped in silver foil and a red ribbon.
This year too, one of my mother’s patients who live in the UK, but come visiting their home in Goa every year, decided to fly down to Pune ,  to show their daughter to my Ma, who is a paediatrician in Pune. And Ma handed over my Christmas cake to her, to deliver it to me in Goa. Didn’t I tell you, this cake has travelled to places. Its travelled to Kolkata, and Dhanbad, and places overseas like Dubai, Mauritius , Canada, wherever her friends and family are.
The Christmas cake recipe, however , I have never tried making myself. It’s like Santa; we never told our parents, we knew they were Santa, because that would just take the magic out of it. If I start making my own cake, Ma might stop sending me hers, and part of the magic of Christmas is the gift of Giving, I don’t want to take that gift away from her!  However , I do make Christmas cake pops from ma’s Christmas cake.
 The cake, unlike the store bought Christmas cakes, is thrice as studded with dryfruits than an average cake. So as one goes to slice a piece, the knife invariably hits a candied orange, veers off track, then hits a walnut and then skids off another route, until you end up with a craggy piece of cake and lots of crumbly cake bits.
Now here is a short and simple recipe for Christmas cake pops.
Crumble Christmas cake, or gather all the crumbly bits together and make little balls of them, add a little condensed milk/honey to bind if needed.
Melt dark chcoclate, add a little butter for gloss, add cinnamon powder , nutmeg powder and ginger powder to the chocolate mix. And what I love to add is oil based orange essence, and a few candied oranges . the smells and flavours of Christmas cake should reflect in your chocolate coating. I melt my chocolate in the microwave, going 20 seconds bursts until melted, but you can do it over a double boiler.
Now drizzle the chocolate over the cake balls, or if you are feeling fairly dangerous, you can stick a lollypop stick in the cake pops and roll it in melted chocolate. But I warn you the christamas cake is more dense and heavy than an average cake pop, and you’ll only drop it in the melted chcoclate.
These cake pops would have been the revamped version of rum balls I presume. But funny thing, while we were allowed to have Christmas cake matured in rum , we weren’t allowed to have Rumballs as a kid!
Recipe also of candied Orange peel.
Peel oranges,sundry the peels for a few days. In a pan take ½ a cup water, bring to boil, add ½ cup sugar, add the diced dried orange peels. Simmer till sugar syrup evaporates. Keep in an airtight container.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

How to plan a beach picnic in Goa

It was our five year wedding anniversary , and living in Goa, i wanted to do something special .
while many opt for a destination wedding in Goa, living in Goa, meant we had a chance at a 'destination' ever afte beach picnic, is a great idea in Goa, especially given the fabulous weather from November to February. 
Given that I am a planner and list maker, planning a beach picnic, was not the mere task of packing a basket and headingout the door. 
here is my checklist of things to consider while planning a beach picnic.

first: I decided to check on how the world of instagram was planning their picnics, and so i did a quick hashtag search of #beachpicnic and #picniconthebeach. you can even pinterest your way around this one, or even google up some images. 

Second , decide which beach , both sandy and Rocky beaches work well , but choose one which is not over crowded. Beaches like Calangute and Baga can get super crowded, and you dont want a sea of gawkers, while ypou attempt a romantic-ish beach picnic. choose from Morjim and upwards, or Uttorda and betalbatim southwards.

Choose time of day, it depends on the tide. Choose a receding tide time, you don’t want to have waves wash away your picnic ! a quick word with the lifeguard or the shack owner at the beach will give you an idea if the tide is receeding or rising.
I prefer one hour before sunset. The golden hour prior to sunset is perfect for a high tea picnic. Also as the lights dim, you can place tea lights or candles in jars, or put torches into the sand for an extended picnic. but if you want an afternoon , mid day picnic, try and carry an umbrella, or pay a price and get one from the beach shacks, though they can be very huffy about it. buy a few drinks from them and they might agree. 

Get lots of towels and blankets, not just the one to lay down, but enough to wipe yourself after. The sand gets everywhere. 

Get lots of beach bags. No plastic bags please! They look ghastly! But you need bags for the food drinks, to keep beach ball n play things, n cutlery n food.Try wicker baskets, or large beach bags which you can fold around the edges to make baskets ( like i did).

The wind can make the beach mat fly, so find weights at each end. Think pineapples or coconut shells or beach rocks as weights. or even buckets filled with sand and a candle lit within it. try the battery operated candles, the wind cant blow those off.

Next is the food, think mini sandwiches, mini burgers, cookies, everything finger food. Nothing too fancy and needs cutlery. nothing which make your hand dirty either. i quite like the idea of keema biryani, or something else which tastes good even if not piping hot. 

bespoke, personalised desserts with our names on it, a cheese cake, a fruit tart and brownies, all with our nicknames. personalised luxury at Kenilworth Resort and Spa , Goa

Add a snack, main course and a dessert . Three courses add excitement . it can be a simple case of tea with biscuits, followed by a light sandwich, followed by donuts . the surprise element as different courses come out of the beach bags is great. i know some people like to barbeque atthe beach, but honestly, some beaches dont allow it, it can be difficult to put up, and the food takes longer to cook. 

Drinks, in Goa carrying alcohol is prohibited on the beach. Carry cans if you wish. A flask of tea is perfect and even canned juices in fancy glasses. Mix alcohol in the fruit juices and you won’t get in trouble with the beach guards. try mocktails and premixes, and colourful cocktails. bottles of wine however, might get you in trouble with the authorities. 

Entertainment : think Music, play it on your phone or a portable device. sand making buckets , or even a beach ball is fun. carry a book if you are having a picnic by yourself.

Last but not the least. Pick up everything when you leave! 
Hope you had fun reading this quick guide to packing a beach picnic. let me know if you have ever been on a beach picnic before. 

A huge round of thanks to the Food and beverage team and the housekeeping team at Kenilworth Goa.

We set up this beach picnic in Uttorda beach, the Kenilworth resort has multiple F an B options and one of them is the 24 hour coffee shop which can help you pack your own picnic lunches, which you can enjoy by their poolside, the second largest pool in Goa, which also haas a sunk in Bar. Some delicious surprises are planned for their christmas brunch as well as New Years eve dinner, so do go check those out as a grand celebration before the year ends.