Sunday, May 10, 2020

Sweetening social isolation, and books we're reading

I posted lots of savory meals in my last post. Over the last couple of months, we've made some sweet treats too and I'm rounding them up here.

On Easter weekend, my British Baking Show- loving daughter was in a baking mood. We decided to make something seasonal, like carrot cake, and in order to fancy it up a little, made a carrot cake roll instead. It was an easy recipe to follow and came together nicely, and most importantly, we could do it peacefully from start to finish during little bro's afternoon nap.

V and the kids teamed up to make me a cake for my birthday. It was V's first time ever making a cake, in his memory. I could see them poring over recipes for weeks beforehand and they finally ended up choosing the tried and tested lemon bliss cake. At one point, I overheard someone say, "Baking soda and baking powder are the same, right?" and felt the need to step in (NO, no they are not), but other than that, they made the whole cake all by themselves while I lounged around and put my feet up. The lemon bundt cake was topped with a candle, the birthday song was sung with gusto and the lemon cake was perfect with a cup of tea.

(Buoyed by the success of their first bake, the three of them got together this morning and baked me a Mother's Day treat- doughnut muffins. Lucky me! I could get used to this.)

Later in the week there was more tea and citrus-flavored cake to be had as my sister mailed me a birthday box including homemade orange cake and a couple of cozy pajamas, all the better for lounging around at home. Her cake was fantastic, and this is the recipe she used, sans glaze.

While I try to emphasize meals and "proper khaana", there's certainly a big market for snacks around here. Once I made a dabba of fruit and nut ladoos as a treat. These were made in minutes by whirring the following in a food processor- pitted soft dates, cranberries, flaxseed meal, sesame seeds, cashews, almonds, walnuts, a sprinkle of salt and cardamom. Process until the crumbly mixture holds when pinched together. Form lime-sized balls. Store in the fridge.

In an effort to try other easy treats, I made these no bake chocolate nut bars. They were pretty good although the oat base was a little bland and too crumbly. This blogger has a very active Instagram account with many neat ideas for small-scale and low-sugar baking, like this apple galette for two, and these oat bars.

Here's one dessert that did not turn out right. It is a pandan custard, made in the instant pot using a recipe from a cookbook. I bought some pandan (screw-pine) extract from the Asian store specially for this. The recipe was easy enough, with eggs, coconut milk, sugar and pandan extract, but the result was too eggy and not to our taste at all.

I'll have to find other uses for the pandan extract, which does have a very unique (in a good way), hard to describe fragrance and flavor.

* * * 
I posted a picture of the stack of books that I managed to hoard before the library closed. I've read and enjoyed most of those by now.

Image: Goodreads
The Night Diary by Hiranandani is an epistolary middle grade novel. Twelve year old Nisha writes in her diary every night (the book title is a pun because the name Nisha means night) to her late mother. The diary covers the tumultuous three month period around the time of the partition of pre-Independence India. Nisha is half-Hindu and half-Muslim, and her family is fleeing from now-Pakistan to now-India. It is a fundamentally sad book because it describes a sad and scary time in a child's life, but it is a such an important story. “Sometimes the world as you know it just decides to become something else. This is our destiny now.” Also, this book has a gorgeous cover illustration.

The American Agent (Maisie Dobbs #15) by Jacqueline Winspear was a terrific read.  Maisie Dobbs is living through the London Blitz in WWII. She volunteers to drive an ambulance at night, and investigates a murder by day. The book paints a vivid picture of people trying to live their lives even as bombs falls night after night. A well-written book with lots of great historical details. And another absolutely stunning cover.

It was interesting to read these two books while we're sheltering in place during the COVID-19 emergency. Sort of puts our situation into perspective. It reminded me that the world goes through crises and upheavals on a regular basis. There is much suffering in this world and those of us with access to shelter and food are the lucky ones.

My daughter is reading the Harry Potter series- she's on book 4 at this time. We have been letting her finish a book and then watch the movie. She's also devouring her dad's collection of Calvin and Hobbes.

* * * 
A few links and recommendations-

Even experienced cooks will get some good tips from this back-to-basics article on how to read a recipe.

I was mesmerized by this 2 minute video of my friend Bala's henna-style painting.

If you're looking for a light and heartwarming show to watch, I highly recommend The Durrells on Prime. Set in Corfu, Greece, in the 1930s, it is the screen adaptation of Gerald Durrell's books, including My Family and Other Animals, which I read and loved many decades ago.

Tell me about your life- how are you doing, what are you eating, reading and watching? 


  1. Happy birthday and mother's day Nupur ! Looks like your troops rallied well ...

    My sister has been doing the same with her 8 year old...he gets to read and then watch Harry Potter one by one since older brother and mom have already gone through that rite of passage.

    Speaking if partition books, remember Bapsi Sidhwa's book from a while ago and this line wherr the narrator who is also a young child wonders as she hears the adults talk of partition " will they split our house down the middle...with one side in India and other Pakistan" . Very affecting.

    Thabks for the prime reco..I loved Durrell too will chrck it out.

    Recently binged 'Never have I ever' on netflix and Panchayat on prime
    Both shows initally didn't draw me in but once I set aside some expectations ( authenticity of the indian american experience in the former and any action development it is after all rural north india in the latter) I could enjoy it. I found the ending of never have I ever very moving...the younger actors were uniformly superb . Panchayat was also very satisfying and acting powerhouses like Neena Gupta and Raghuvir Yadav deliver memorable perfomances.

    1. Thank you so much! And happy mother's day to you too :) Thank you for both your recommendations.

      After listlessly browsing the offerings on Netflix etc. and never finding anything that would hold my attention, I was glad when my sister recommended the Durrells to me; it was the right show at the right time for me. Hassled mom trying to do her best in The Durrells- that's a mood of the moment.

  2. Belated Birthday wishes, Nupur!
    I love how the kids and Dad managed to make this splendid cake for you. You've trained them well ;)
    I am reading (I started it, but kept it aside with home schooling schedule) The widows of Malabar Hill. I keep telling myself, 2 weeks for school to end! Our charter school, unlike public, will go through with everything till the end of the year. Right now, I am conducting online tests, and then there's the paperwork to do (which I suck at), so I will pick up the book again... in time :)
    Eating: I try making standard fare (poli-bhaji, amti-bhaat) most of the time. I keep anything fancy for the weekend or quick (like sandwich) for busy days. I have a backlog there too. My son asked to besan ladoos a couple of days ago.
    Last night I had 1/2 cup sabudana leftover, so I made a quick sabudana papad (valvan) and its drying under the fan as i type. Let's see if it works.
    Watching:we recently subscribed to hotstar and it has Desi fare, we found a funny one, Hamari Bahu Rajni Kant (a lifelike robot becomes the bahu in a joint family)and then we watch an assortment of other serials and movies.

    1. Thanks, Manasi! The Widows of Malabar Hill was a good read, I hope you get back some reading time once school is officially done. Kudos to you and all teachers for doing your best to teach kids online. I can't imagine it is easy. I haven't any Hindi or Marathi shows/movies in ages! There are so many on Netflix and Prime but I never know which ones would be good.

  3. Belated birthday wishes Nupur tai .
    Looks like you have some budding bakers at home. So happy to read that moms do get a break sometimes. My little ones are far away from baking on their own ( 5 years and 18 mo) .But I see there is some hope years down the lane.
    I have been trying to bake some cakes during the pandemic.It is a new found love for me . If you have any tried and tested eggless cake recipes would love to try those.
    On the reading end I finished Palace of Illusions- Chitra Banerjee. A different take on Mahabharata from the perspective of Draupadi.
    I also finished Talking to Starngers by malcolm Gladwell. I wished I had skipped this one. I loved his Blink, Outliers and Tipping Point better .
    And to the list are tons of board books all day long. Our fav being Brown bear and Llama Llama Red Pajama .

    1. Hi Gargi! Yes, if there's one thing I will teach my kids before they grow up, it will be basic cooking and baking skills. They both love being in the kitchen and making a mess anyway.

      My kids loved both those board books too- all of Eric Carle's books are such a treat. You must have your hands full entertaining two little kids at home.

      Here's an eggless vanilla cake that is my go-to recipe for when I need to bake something eggless:

      Here's an eggless cake that is on my list to try and has great reviews:

      Here's a pistachio cake that is also on my make-someday list:

      Have fun baking!

  4. Dear Nupur - have read your posts and been meaning to comment and you know how time slips away....Firstly all my blessings to Lila. She is such an immensely talented and sensitive little girl. Loved her poem and picture. Wishing you a very happy birthday and Mothers Day and in my mind both these days are not limited to "one" day. Every day is a birthday and Mothers Day for me. And I was so impressed with V and the children for baking for you! We have been going for long walks and both of us have been working from home, I've finished reading 2 Murakami books and have been watching a lot of YouTube videos. And of course I've been cooking like crazy! Taking food to the new parents! Love playing with our granddaughter when possible. Look forward to more such positive posts from you :) Shubha

    1. Dear Shubha- Thank you for your wishes! Your kids are lucky that you're bringing them food! I remember the exhausted days of having a newborn, breastfeeding around the clock and being ravenous all the time. Congrats on the baby granddaughter. How wonderful! I too have been loving long walks in the spring weather here. Murakami is on my to-read list but haven't gotten around to it yet.

  5. Lovely treats - that carrot roll is really impressive - I have tried them before so I know it is not always easy to roll up to look as good as yours. And I am tempted by your orange recipe because we have rather a lot of oranges right now.

    I like how your reading gave your perspective on Covid19 - I read The Triffids in lockdown which I found really interesting as there are some parallels. It was great crisis reading. I liked it so much I looked up the 2009 british film on youtube and found that fascinating too. I have been baking lots of bread - it is on my to do list of things to post and we made brownie this week which was fun.

    And it is lovely to have your family bake for you - it must have been delightful to listen to them bake - did you hear yourself echoed in their talk?

    1. Johanna- Rolling cakes is indeed tricky. The batter for cake rolls is spread so thinly in the pan, it bakes up quickly and if you over-bake by even a minute or two, the cake cracks. The carrot cake being orange-brown, it was especially hard to see how the cake was cooking up. We just got lucky this time around. It was slightly nerve-wracking to hear the family bake- messy disasters are always lurking around the corner when a toddler is "helping"- but they did a nice job and cleaned up after themselves which I appreciated!!

  6. Your treats all look tempting! I have never tasted pandan and find it very intriguing. It was a favorite of Captain Cook, maybe one of the first Europeans to taste it. So nice that you had a good birthday and Mother's Day!

    be well... mae at

    1. Mae- Pandan reminded me of the smell of good quality raw rice. Very subtle but distinctive flavor. It would be good in a pound cake, I think.

  7. Belated birthday wishes Nupur! The cakes look so good!
    Mother's day and my birthday were back to back and my 10 year old did some baking too with her 7 year old brother's help. I had got her the America's Test Kitchen kids baking cookbook for Christmas and she has made a few things from it during the quarantine. Would highly recommend it, the thumbprint cookies are the best cookies I've ever had. She made a chocolate snack cake for my birthday which was very tasty too.
    Lockdown is going alright so far, a bit sad for my daughter that her friends and she missed out on 5th grade parties and everything that marks the end of elementary school for them. Not as big of a deal as seniors and college graduates, but for a 10 year old it is.
    I have been reading sporadically, somehow I can't focus on reading like before. Definitely not serious topics or non-fiction, have been sticking to lighter fare. Some friends and I started a book club and read a romance novel for our first book. Quite a few of them read a book after years. We just had our first meeting on Mother's day over zoom and it was a fun, lively discussion. We've picked Namesake for the next month, plan to watch the movie since it has Irrfan Khan too.
    Kids and I planted some flower seeds and milkweed and we've already had many monarch visitors and have some baby caterpillars today. So that has been fun and exciting.
    Hope you guys continue to do well..sending love from Houston!


    1. Hi Anu- A couple of my close friends also had their birthday on Mother's Day :) Apparently cool people all have their birthday during this time ;) How fun that your kids are making you treats. My daughter owns The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs Book by America's Test Kitchen Kids (superb gift from a friend) but I'll have to look for their baking book too. Thumbprint cookies have been on my to-make list with the kids.

      I feel for your daughter, missing out on one of life's big milestones. It is a pretty big step to move from the safety of elementary school into the big world of middle school and beyond.

      The Namesake was a lovely novel and a good film too. What fun to have a book club with friends. Your garden adventures sound like a lot of fun too.

      Much love from GA! Stay safe and healthy!

  8. Belated birthday wishes, Nupur! The cake(s) look amazing..

    I also recently finished The Night Diaries and enjoyed it a lot. As you say, it was particularly relevant to the challenges of the current times and how our worlds can turn upside down by an event outside any of our controls and the best we can do is just accept the phase with as much grace as we can :) I enjoyed the child's perspective in the book.

    Hope you are staying safe!

    1. Thanks PJ! How fun that you recently read Night Diary too. We need more kid lit stories from different parts of the world, and describing children in different (and sometimes difficult) circumstances. I did not read this one to my daughter but will suggest it to her in a couple of years. Best wishes to you and your family!

  9. Belated Birthday wishes Nupur! I totally enjoyed reading your post. I have never heard of Pandan. What is it? I have been thinking of making carrot cake for a while now but never got to it. I always end up making banana bread these days because for some reason all my bananas decide to ripen pretty much at the same time and guess what I end up making Banana bread and my kids enjoy it.
    Please stop by my blog and see if you could recognise me or my blog :-) No worries if you don't..

    1. Yes, I recognize you :) of course. I will stop by your blog and say hello. Bananas seem to have a very narrow window of a few hours between being under-ripe and over-ripe! In my home we like making banana date smoothies. Carrot cake is great for when you buy a big bag of carrots.

      Pandan is similar to vanilla extract, in that it is a liquid flavoring for desserts. It is the extract of screw pine leaves and has a very unique aroma and taste. I've heard it being called the vanilla of East Asia.

  10. Thank you so much nupur for you review on Amazon for my book! I really appreciate it. Your blog resonates with me.. all the themes are dear to my heart- quick, simple, tasty home cooking, reading, sewing. So a review from you is very special.

    1. Dear Jui- I did not have your e-mail address so I could not write to you to thank you for the book and say that I posted reviews, both on Amazon and on Goodreads. Thank you for reading my blog and for your kind words! I wish your book every success.

  11. Belated Birthday Wishes!!

  12. Nupur, i've tried the other carrog caje recipe you have that has pineapples. Do you see the roll working with that recipe or would it be too moist?


    1. Sowmya- I don't think that recipe would be easy to roll!

  13. Hi Nupur,

    Have you ever tried baking in the instant pot with steel pans that are used for pot-in-pot cooking? Or maybe in the oven?

    I have a limited storage space, so I'm exploring options to reuse what I have instead of buying more.


    1. Hi Anupama- I'm not sure I understand what you are asking. I don't have any special pot in pot cooking pots. My old pressure cooker containers do fit into the instant pot so I have been using those. I don't use those pots for oven baking though. Good luck!


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