December 10, 2012

Talking Over Tea & Scones

Women talk. Go ahead, deny it, but you and I both know it's the terrible truth. This week my sister is in town and what's about to go down is not done justice by simply referring to it as "talking." We will be performing a highly cultured ritual where the females of the tribe will convene for endless chai and chatter.

When I speak, it's almost like I'm hard of hearing. I laugh even louder, but that's because I have a theory about laughter; like a sneeze, it must be loud to be truly satisfying.

Also, I talk a lot. I'm not sure if that's because I come from a family of women who love to yap or if I married into a family of one? Maybe it's because I went to college at the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement?

Really, the reasons don't matter because it boils down to something pretty simple; verbal out-pour just makes me feel a little bit lighter.

When M comes home, all the ladies in my clan instantly develop MMS (Manic Motor-Mouth Syndrome). Three generations of women sit down, lingering over bottomless cups of tea, chatting about everything from men, make-up and motherhood to saucy scandals, sob stories and psychotic staff members.

To the untrained ears of an innocent bystander, our volume and pitch can be deafening.

So how can these sessions still be so soothing? For one, I don't know of a safer setting in which to laugh, cry and generally unload. But what I love most about our heart-to-hearts is this: zero censorship, no holds barred.

Sometimes I'm purposely obnoxious. Believe me, it's totally worth it. Watching my grandmother squirm and pretend to be a prude, secretly trying to hide her amusement behind a look of damning disapproval, is absolutely priceless. It doesn't even take much. Just something casual like, "Hey Nano, wanna go have a smoke?" I don't even smoke...anymore, but you get the picture.

Here's the thing though, I'm horrible at taking advice. I'm even worse with criticism, but in my defense I have the tendency to be so harshly self-critical that sometimes my self-esteem threatens to go on strike. So when these mile-a-minute marathons start to become liberally peppered with some really *ahem* creative solutions to all my fantastical little problems, I reflexively turn into a stubborn mule, refusing to listen.

This week though, in an extremely rare occurrence, I'm willingly going to solicit someone else's opinion. Namely, you.

We've been hanging out a lot these past few weeks and that sort of makes us buddies, right? Or is that just me?

Either way, I need to tell you, I've faced some heat for posting Love in the Time of Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese Sandwiches 1 & 2. Why, you ask? Patience, my child. I'm getting to it.

Apparently, some things in life are meant to be private, secrets that are carefully guarded, lest someone smite you with their stink-eye or discover who thee really is.

Heck, I'm all about privacy. In fact, I feel about privacy the way Trekkie's feel about Spock; it's a deeply emotional matter. For example, don't show up at my place unannounced. No one has the right to see me in my slob-suit!

So what's the problem? Simply this; I'm not super at being secretive or sneaky. And even though I'm fiercely territorial about my personal space, I also like to think of myself as an open book. I know that's a contradiction, but that's me, slightly bipolar. We all have a little bit of a paradox in us, right?

I realize honesty is usually awkward. In fact, sometimes telling the truth is so traumatic, it makes me want to curl up in the fetal position and hide. But honesty can also be very liberating. So for the first time since I started this blog, I'm going to try and get serious with you guys.

Grab a cup of tea and settle in because you and I need to have a little talk. 

I owe you an explanation and you owe me an opinion. One-sided conversation and strained silence make me as uncomfortable as an Aunty asking me, "Beta, aap kay Father kya kartay hein."

Anyways, coming back to being chided and chastised like a child. 

Basically, I'm really confused about what qualifies as classified information in this country. I mean, I don't know any other place in the world where personal information is demanded with such gall and guts. Where else are people so persistently prodded and pressurized into publicly declaring their patriotism, religious beliefs, political views, and bank balances? I've been asked if I shower every day. I mean, come on! If such callous conversations can conspire so casually, is the truth about finding love really so scandalous?

I started writing Hunger & Haw Hai for a couple of reasons. Most obviously, it was a great way to constructively channel my food lust and fulfill a desire to live the dream, all in one go. You know, two birds, one stone.

Also, I haven't had a real job in the past 3 years and I couldn't stand that my reply to being asked what I do was a blank stare. I sometimes used squeak "housewife," but in the 21st century, where work defines you worth, people look at you funny when you say that. One doctor actually laughed at me when I blurted it out. I'll admit, it does seem a bit matronly, but on the flipside, being a lady of leisure is really quite luxurious.

Earlier this year though , I was promoted from "unimpressively unemployed," to "stay-at-home-mom." Higher calling, higher status, hunh? It's a job title I can totally live with. The pay, slobbery kisses, is great, and the benefits, cuddle-bunny hugs, are amazing.

And now of course, I'm also Blogger. Food Blogger. Licensed to cook killer meals.

Most importantly though, when I was teetering on the brink of 30 and absolutely freaking out at my lack of a list of superstar accomplishments, I made a deal with the Big Man Upstairs. If he helped me get rid of my wretched writer's block, I'd make an honest effort to be less of a hypocrite. I'd walk the talk.

Now, I don't mean to hate on my country, but it's quite comfortable and convenient living a lie here. Sometimes, it's like we collectively condone it as a nation. I don't wear a sleeveless and I don't talk to boys, but Veena Malik, you go girl! Good for you, letting it all hang out and objectifying yourself like that. You fierce, brave warrior princess, you! Women's Rights Forever!!!

As for the pact, it's been interesting. I finally got my act together and got down to writing. More importantly though, I've met you guys, which you'd be surprised to know, has helped put one of my biggest fears to rest; being alone. I won't sob to you, but I will confess, sometimes I feel like a total misfit.

I'm loud and blunt to a fault. I laugh hysterically at really crass jokes. I can't do math beyond basic arithmetic. I have an inner control freak that's a total control freak. I'm a mother who loves her sweatpants and doesn't do her hair every day. My cat is my first child.  And worst of all, sometimes I talk faster than I can think. P.S., that one's gotten me into a lot of trouble.

Seriously, I thought admitting my flaws would lighten my load, but I'm still upset about getting flack for speaking casually about *ahem* inappropriate matters like my husband and besieged bathrooms. I had no idea either were a state secret. Am I subconsciously crossing a cultural line?

That's where you come in. I'm relying on you to answer that question because I'm kind of mixed breed and I might be missing something.

Hunger & Haw Hai isn't meant to purposely offend anyone's sensibilities. And it's not about sensationalism or shock value. It's just about finding humor, hope and happiness in the mundane and finding a posse of pals who live by the same rules. 

Finally, because I rely so heavily on Dr Seuss for worldly wisdom and before I hand the mic over, I want to express my gratitude for your support with one of his most beautiful and deeply profound quotes: "We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love." 
In other words, I  love you guys!

To prove it and in the spirit of a great heart to heart, I'm sharing my grandmother's recipe for Kashmiri Chai and my favorite recipe for perfectly puffed scones with a sweet orange marmalade butter. Wow, that sounded so warm and wholesome.
Traditionally, the beautifully fragrant, rose-hued chai is served with Bakarkhani, a Kashmiri puff-pastry made out of phyllo. When bitten into, the crisp, subtly salted layers of the light, airy pastry shatter with the most satisfying crunch, serving as the perfect complement to the sweetened tea. 
I'm replacing the Bakarkhani with cheese scones served with a bright, citrus-y marmalade butter. You'll still get the signature savoryness of the puff-pastry, but exchanging the Bakarkhani with warm scones and jam is pretty definitive of my conundrum this week. I'm a one woman clash of civilizations. Also, scones playing sidekick to the milky tea makes this pairing perfect for breakfast or tea-time. 

Cheese Scones with Marmalade & Pistachio Butter (approx. 8-12 scones)
Adapted from Scones, by the Lahore Grammar School Nutrition Dept.
Ingredients Cheese Scones
  • 8 ounces flour (Lean how to make self-raising flour)
  • 2 oz butter, cold
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 teaspoon baking powder
  • 150 ml/ 5 fluid ounces milk
  • 1 ounce cheddar cheese
- For the scones, preheat the oven to 220 c/425 F and lightly grease a baking tray.

- In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Rub in the butter lightly with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. 

- Add the cheese and milk and use your hands to work the mixture into a soft dough.

- Turn the dough out onto a floured worktop and knead it lightly. Pat the dough into a round  3/4 inch thick. Use a round 2 inch cookie cutter to cut out individual scones from the dough, until all the dough has been used. 

- Brush the tops of the scones with some milk to get a beautifully glazed top. 

- Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the scones are golden and puffy. Serve warm or room temperature. 

Ingredients Marmalade & Pistachio Butter
  • 4 ounces butter, slightly softened
  • 1/2 cup orange marmalade
  • 25 grams pistachios, shelled and coarsely chopped
 - Using a fork, combine the butter, pistachios and the marmalade. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Serve cold.

Nano's Kashmiri Chai (approx. 6-8 cups)

Ingredients Kashmiri Chai
  • 6 teaspoons green Kashmiri tea leaves 
  • 6 cups + 3 cups water
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 star anise
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons cardamom, coarsely ground
  • 6 cups milk
- In a large, heavy based pot add the tea leaves, 6 cups of water, the baking soda, star anise and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. The baking soda brings out the pinkness in the tea, so don't forgo this ingredient!

- Once the water is boiling, turn the heat down and simmer the tea until the liquid is reduced down to half. 

- When reduced, add another 3 cups of water to the tea and bring to a boil Reduce the heat and simmer for another 5-8 minutes until the foam at the top of the tea begins to turn pink.

- Turn off the heat and pay close attention to the next step. It's the difference between a good tea and phenomenal tea. Using a ladle, spoon up the tea, lift out of the pot and pour it back into the pot. You're essentially beating the tea, ladle by ladle, to extract as much flavor and color as possible. It's a traditional method used at tea stalls across the country. Repeat this 8-10 times, until the foam on the tea is a deep pink.

- In a separate pot, combine the milk and ground cardamom, bring to a boil and then genlty simmer for 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat.

- How much milk you add is a personal choice, depending on how dark or light you prefer your tea. 

- Serve hot.

Until next time, it was great talk and bless your heart for your enviable patience!
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  1. Its a well written, amusing narration of your life and thoughts. I wouldn't mind reading this as a weekly column in a sunday morning magazine to get a chuckle or two, besides the recipes which I may or may not try because I only cook for survival's sake.

    Please pay no heed to the narrow mindset out there.Just write on.

    1. Yay! Glad I'm not alone :) Thanks for supporting my cause. I'm even more thrilled that you want to read Hunger & Haw Hai on suc a regular basis. If you're in Lahore and looking for something to munch on, holler. Again, thanks for tuning in.

  2. its alot of fun reading you...carry on with ure unique style..

    1. Thanks a million for reading my babbles :)

  3. Ican totally identify with the bewilderment at lines you suplosedly cross and fragilw toes you end up crushing without the least intention of either. Whats worse is we seem to be a nation of hypocrites where god forbid anyone come straight to you and talk out whatever offended them. No you can count on hurt looks and snide remarls while you try tp figire out the reason.i decided a long time back to choose between living by my ow stabdards or ditting in. I could say I chose the former but honestly there's just so muxh freak high you can get. Unfortunately I seem genetically incapable of the latter so ah well as lomg as I fit wharever standard I have for me the price is ok.

    Love your write up. Look forward to reading you regukarly!

    1. It's because of readers like you that I have the freedom to write like this. Thank you so much for your support and stay tuned for more :)

  4. Personally speaking, I love your style of writing and what makes me want to read your blog again is not just the recipe but your story and your thoughts all building up suspense towards the actual recipe .. it builds up a connection between you as a writer and me as a reader ..
    Recipes I can always google up, but the blogs and the books that I keep reading again and again are always the ones that have some story to them; as far as how much you want to share with your readers is concerned, that's really upto you, but if the people involved in the stories don't mind, then its pretty much okay :) ..

    1. Kiran, you've been gung-ho about my little project from the very beginning and I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. It's nice to feel like my readers know me for me. And if I can tie that to food, I can't think of anything more fulfilling. Keep following and again, thanks :)

  5. Hey insha i have been a regular reader of your blog. Absolutely love it! Was just wondering if plain green tea leaves are different from kashmiri green tea leaves? My hubby is a great fan of kashmiri tea, thinking to try out your recipe.

  6. Hi Abeera! Thank you for being such a dedicated follower and I'm glad you're enjoying yourself :) Green tea leaves are different from Kashmiri tea leaves (which are also green in color). If you're based in Lahore, it's available at Al-Fatah. Take care and let me know how it turns out.


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