Sunday, October 10, 2010

baking in beawar

The saddest cake ever?
The smell of banana cake permeated the house in Beawar.

"Wow," Prati said, twirling into the kitchen where her sister and I were cleaning up, her eyes alight with sarcastic mischief. "How amazing!" She mimicked the cadence of a video in Cayden's "distract him so he'll sit still" repertoire. "Overcoming obstacles in Beawar to bake a cake -- no proper mixing bowls or anything!"

Dunkin Donuts muffin. Photo Credit: graciepoo via Flicker
Last year when we stayed with her sister, Priti, in Delhi, she made a big show of wanting to buy me a muffin. But the goods she so proudly displayed were packaged, puny, heavy things, not the mammoth Dunkin' Donuts monstrosities that are a guilty pleasure at home. So I decided that, this year, I would bake her a moist, fluffy, American-style cake coated with glistening icing. And I decided that I wanted to do it in Beawar, in a house without a fork or oven, much less an electric mixer. (In high school, my friend and I baked chocolate chip cookies in China. We had to go down the street with our cookie sheets and persuade a local baker to let us use his oven. These things can be done.)

I found a basic yellow cake recipe on Epicurious and convinced the sisters that they were going to help me make it happen. The following morning, Priti set to work, sending her family servant to find the ingredients that weren't in the house. We borrowed a hand mixer from across the street. Before I knew what was happening, Priti had a whole setup on the kitchen floor and I had lost control of my project. She started measuring and adding ingredients into a pan in a way that looked disconcertingly haphazard.

"If this doesn't work, it's your fault," I told her.

"Ah," she said, "but it's your recipe."

But it wasn't, really. We couldn't use eggs in their mom's vegetarian kitchen, so we substituted bananas, turning yellow cake into banana cake from the get go. And, I was told, there was no buttermilk available, so they were substituting yogurt. There was no vanilla either, though there was a spice freshly ground in the mortar.

"This we will substitute," Priti said. "It's a spice you use in America a lot, no?"

I took a whiff: cinnamon. Which is not at all vanilla extract. OK then. My grand cake-making plan found me relegated to sifting, onto newspaper on the floor, the dry stuff that somebody else selected and measured.

(Priti wanted to conserve water by having fewer bowls to wash. Just once in more than a month, I'd selfishly wanted to reclaim my sense of American abundance, not worrying about every scrap in a grander project. In India, people reuse newspaper to wrap parcels, and the conservation, which I admit is a good thing, goes from there. But I'd hit a wall in the previous few days, with a head cold, too many people around all the time and a strong desire to curl up in a silent New England living room drinking alternating sips of coffee and wine and understanding every damn thing the people around me said. Oh, and there'd be no cows, nobody staring at the Western apparition among them and I wouldn't have to worry about being cheated or whether my clothes appropriately cover my boobs in a country where every other woman has a bare midriff. But India doesn't suddenly become the tri-state area just because a visitor needs a breather; as if to hammer home that point, when we went out last night to buy baking powder, Beawar's market was overtaken by a raucus religious parade, complete with an elephant, a camel, dancing men on floats and yet more people staring at me.)

Anyway, the ingredients got combined and put into an "oven" that sat atop the burner. And in the end, we ended up with a slightly burned, sad-looking little cake that didn't fill its pan. But it felt like cake and tasted like cinnamon and bananas. And I guess, when attempting to kick a hint of homesickness by baking a cake, ending up with one suffices.


  1. I noted that you are blogging more on Beawar from last 3-4 blogs. I want to know that do you belong from Beawar?
    Really your English Writing is much awesome & magnificent.But I'm not a english professor to mark.
    Happy Writing...
    -Mor mukut Bhati,Beawar

  2. Hi there, thanks for reading. I'm visiting my friend's family in Beawar with her.