By: Supriya Khadka
10th of Baishakh, a day before Matatirtha Aaushi, I announced, "Tomorrow, I am going to cook lunch for everyone." This announcement might be quite normal in any household, but it was enough to shock everyone in mine.
You see, cooking is not my biggest strength, so mummy and baba generally take turns cooking dinner. My sister cooks every once in a while, yet the food is finger-licking good. As for me, I cook only when no other options remain, and the food I cook turns out to be…well, let's just say 'bad' (and trust me, this is me being kind to myself). The aaloo in saag would be pale yellow as I never add enough besar. The daal would taste like the ocean water, and as for the curry, there were usually two possible outcomes: either the kitchen would be filled with smoke, or it would turn out to be a boiled veggie soup with zero flavors instead of a curry. Yep, not so pretty, and you can imagine the taste.
I have always tried my best to stay away from the kitchen. But that day, I wanted to do something special for mummy. Also, I saw everyone flaunting their lock-down cooking skills on Facebook and Instagram stories, and I wanted to do the same...just a little bit...you get it. Anywho, I decided I wanted to cook. I sat on my bed with a pen and sticky notes, keeping my mobile phone in front of me. After scrolling through some recipes on YouTube, I decided I would attempt Malpua. And Lalmohan, and maybe a cake from biscuit crumbs. 'Yes, we are going to have a dessert festival,' or so I thought. You'll see. I noted all the ingredients and asked baba to buy everything on it by the next morning (because I would gladly pay a thousand rupees for a kilogram of sugar).
Next morning, despite the limited number of shops available due to the lock-down, Baba brought the ingredients. We had a small pooja in the morning. After the pooja, I spent all my morning making frosting cones out of butter paper (which, by the way, turned out much better than I'd expected).
I wanted the day to be perfect. At around noon, I entered the kitchen with my pen, sticky notes and a scale ready for the battle. To perfect the recipe, I needed to make sure the measurements were perfect. The measurement units were in 'cups' and 'teaspoons' in every recipe. So, the first thing I had to do was to find a 'cup': a vessel which was exactly equal to 250 ml. Now, how do I know how much is 250 ml? I thought for a while, and decided that the vessel which could empty a one-litre mineral water bottle after four fillings is 250 ml. Oh, I was a genius. At least I thought I was until I started pouring water in and out of the bottle to every vessel in the kitchen. I hadn't started cooking, and my genius mind had led me to make a mess in the kitchen, scattering utensils everywhere. Ugh! Just great! And finally, it occurred to me to make do with our daily-use mugs. Those mugs emptied the one-litre mineral water bottle after three fillings. 'Hmm, so each mug is 333.33 ml. I have my scale. I am sure I will be able to do the math.'
After my semi-successful quest for the perfect vessel, I decided to get started on the actual food. The first dish on my menu was Malpua. A cup of flour, a glass of water and half a cup of milk (no, I'm not going to just write the whole recipe). The batter looked just like the one in the YouTube video. Now, the dilemma was about adding sugar in the mix. One video involved adding sugar directly into the batter, but the other suggested dipping the cooked Malpua in chasni later on. Then, as any genius cook would do, I followed my instincts (ermm...not really, I just went along with the video with more views). Soaking the Malpua in chasni, it was. The recipe involved boiling a cup of sugar and a glass of water for chasni, and keeping it in a different pan to cool. I followed accordingly. After making the chasni, it was time to fry the Malpuas. Oil was ready in the frying pan, and so was I, with the batter and a ladle.
The first batch went in the hot oil.
'The shape looks nice; uniformly distributed in the pan; no cracking to be seen. This is not that tough. I can do this.'
The reddish-brown color on one of their borders told me it was the time to flip them. My confidence was increasing exponentially.
'Hold on, where is the slotted spoon?' Panic mode on! I frantically started looking for it. I could see the reddish-brown color changing to deep brown. Just when I was about to call mummy for help, I saw it lying on the table. I must have taken it out while I was searching for the "perfect vessel". Ugh! The first batch was nearly spoiled. I flipped them, let them cook for a while, and dipped them in the chasni after they were perfectly cooked. I put the second batch in and waited for the first batch to soak in the sugar from chasni. A few minutes later, I took the Malpuas out of the chasni and put the second batch in. The Malpuas were soggy and started breaking in my hand. I brought some tissues to try to salvage my Malpuas, but they were long gone. It was heartbreaking.
My confidence had begun to sink when Mummy, with her impeccable timing, entered the kitchen with a huge grin.
"Oh, we finished making a dish. What have we got?"
She gazed at the sad-looking Malpuas and picked one to taste.
"We could have done with a little less sugar. But it is not that bad."
I tasted one. There was a sugar frenzy going on. I had forgotten to do that 'cup math' while adding the sugar. I added a cup and a half instead of a cup. Damn you, Murphy's Law!
"It was a good attempt. You can keep the remaining batter in the fridge. We can make something out of it tomorrow."
These words from her stopped the sinking and brought some confidence back. So, I continued "Okay. The lalmohan will be better, I promise."
Mummy left the kitchen. I placed the mushy second batch along with the first batch and pushed them into the fridge. I cleaned up and started looking for suji in the grocery bag. I couldn't find it anywhere.
"Baba, you had brought suji, hadn't you?" I shouted from the kitchen.
"I forgot to tell you. The shop was out of suji," replied Baba calmly.
There was no way the shops would be open at day-time in the lock-down.
"Mummy, there is no suji. I will not be able to make Lalmohan."
"Fine. Make something with whatever is available."
'Supriya, it is your last chance to stay in the competition. Make this cake right, or go to your room!' I heard the Masterchef Junior version of Gordon Ramsey shouting at me.
(The Junior version because the other one would say…well, you know.)
I took the Oreos out of the grocery bags and started separating the cream. I whisked the separated cream with a fork adding milk intermittently. The frosting was ready. Now, onto the batter: biscuit crumbs, sugar and milk.
'Simple enough! Let's not forget the pre-heating.'
I kept a pressure-cooker on the gas stove. I made sure everything was measured correctly this time.
'Now, a pinch of baking soda and the batter is good to go. I can do this!'
I poured the batter in the middle compartment of a hot case and made sure it was well-settled. The video was asking me to make a layer of salt on the base of the pressure cooker. I made up some 'heat retention' jibber-jabber inside my head in case mummy asked why I was wasting so much salt. I placed a small plate above the salt, and finally my batter above it. I closed the lid and started praying.
'Oh, the frosting!'
I gently placed the frosting inside my handmade frosting cone. Now, all I could do was wait.
"I am hungry. Are you done making anything?"
My sister made an appearance in the kitchen.
"There are soggy Malpuas in the fridge if you want. If not, wait for the cake."
She frowned and looked at the cooker.
"Are you sure the sithi is supposed to be there?" she remarked and left.
I hurriedly removed the vent weight and continued on my waiting. After 45 minutes, the toothpick test declared that the cake was ready. I used the tongs to take the case out of the cooker, let it cool for a while, and flipped it. There were some cracks, but it looked like a cake. I tried to fill the fissures with the frosting. I wish it hadn't melted, but I was happy nevertheless. It still looked like a cake.
I called everyone to the kitchen. I could see how happy Mummy and Baba were when they saw the cake. My sister looked proud.
"Mummy cut the cake!" I exclaimed.
She cut the cake, and I served it to everyone.
The sides were burnt, but the insides tasted like a cake!
I'd made a mess, was tired, and the cake wasn't perfect. However, my parents were proud, and my sister, who is the harshest critic, said she loved it. I couldn't have been happier.
Everything was worth it!
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