My red bicycle saved me. It took me to book fairs so I could buy books, which were frowned upon in my house because anything fictional was considered a waste of time. They were also not available anywhere else, as we didn't have the luxury of public lending libraries.
As a nine year old who was fascinated with all the books written by Enid Blyton, I wanted to inhabit the world she described - where little girls and boys gathered under weeping willows for picnics provided by their beautiful mums - picnics that consisted of enormous slices of chocolate cake, warm scones accompanied by sweet berries and clotted cream, washed down with tall glasses of lemonade. I learned how to dream because of those books, to dream of a world beyond mine, which, beautiful as it was with swaying palm trees and fragrant mangoes, did not, in my childish opinion, compare to visions of rolling hills, blue skies, and cake. Oh, that chocolate cake that inhabited most of my fantasies.
Since I couldn't reasonably expect that sort of cake from the modest and irregularly found bakeries in my hometown, the only logical thing was to make my own. There was, of course, the slight problem of how. Not that I was incapable, in my self-assured little mind, but how, and from where, could I procure the ingredients? Not to mention, we didn't even own an oven, nor did I have access to any recipes. This was, after all, South India thirty seven years ago. Our grocery stores existed on tiny street corners. Vegetables were sold door-to-door from hand-carts pushed by the farmers who grew them, fresh every day. The milkman brought the cow to your front door, so she could be milked in front of you, into a tall brass container you provided, so you could see it was fresh, and free from contamination. Most grocery stores had no refrigeration, hence could not sell cream.
Thank goodness for my red bicycle. It took me to a traveling book fair, from where I purchased my first recipe book, with my own allowance. All these years later, you can still see my childish handwriting marking the book as mine, and the penciled price at the top right hand corner - it cost Rs. 47.00, which is less than ten American cents.
My bicycle also allowed me access to stores farther than walking distance, and I began to hunt down the ingredients I would need. I begged for an oven, and was told that one would be purchased IF it was proven that I could indeed bake. A neighbor was kind enough to lend me hers in the meantime.
That bicycle gave me wings, and eventually led me here - to a country where I can walk into almost any store, and be overwhelmed by the choices offered. To a land that's indeed rich - with it's melting pot of cultures, farmer's markets, resources and people. I've come across a few bad apples, but time and again have had reason to believe in the good. Where I found love, the kind that lasts, and was blessed with our daughters. And as my eldest prepares to fly the nest, I wish for her her own version of a red bicycle, no matter where she goes.
I didn't start with chocolate cake of course, but I outlined it - marked it in ink that was red at that time, as IMPORTANT. That it was my goal, and I would work up to it. I did, and with the patina that time lends, it is the best chocolate cake in my memory.
The younger me had a vision of myself: in a gingham apron and bandana to tame my unruly hair, I would be handing out sweet treats and smiles to folks young and old under a cerulean sky. Chickens would be clucking nearby, there would be a profusion of sunflowers, and hay bales always featured in the background. The temperature would be hovering around 68 degrees, and everyone was happy. Rather an unlikely vision for someone from a bustling coastal city in South India, wouldn't you say?
But, my ideal vision of America was never Rodeo Drive and Fifth Avenue, but more Main Street. The descriptions of small town America always charmed me, with the corner bakery and high school homecoming.
Fast forward at least twenty five years, and at least parts of my vision are about to come true - we have been approved as a vendor at the North Hills Farmers Market! To say that I'm excited and overjoyed would be stating it mildly. Beginning April 14th, you will get to see us, (and Penny!) every Saturday from 8:00 a.m. until noon, dispensing both smiles and cookies (and pies, and bonbons, and muffins, and cinnamon rolls).
I can't guarantee the weather, or the cerulean sky. And heaven help us if there are chickens running everywhere. But yes, I'll be wearing the bandana and apron. And the sweet treats taste better than the ones in my imagination.
My knight in shining armour drives a minivan. Willingly.
Even though we are past the stage where he needs the automatic sliding doors because he is carrying a sleeping baby, and we no longer require twenty-three (I exaggerate, but only slightly) cup holders for sippy cups and our daughter's rock collection. At an age where some men are trying to reclaim their youth by trading up to the sports car and investing in hair plugs, my husband just bought a minivan. For Penelope, and by extension, for me.
It began with an idea I started kicking around, of being able to sell our cookies and baked goods to our customers - in person, not just impersonally, online. After all, that's what I miss the most about not having a brick-and-mortar location is people interaction. The widened eyes when they take that first bite, sticky chocolate on a child's face, and the older generation patting my hand and telling me that the pie crust is just like their mama used to make.
So, we decided to build a cart. Not just any cart, but one that looks and feels like an extension of us, our home kitchen where we make all the desserts from scratch. And my engineer husband went to work. First, a list of my must-haves. Then, a hand-drawn design. Our daughters weighed in on the aesthetic. And I got excited. Very, very excited. Until, inevitably, we clashed. His superbly engineered design was impractical for me. My suggestions for cutting corners to speed up the process went against his every belief in retaining the strength and integrity of the cart.
But, like everything else we have done in this life we've built together, Penelope was created as the slightly imperfect but very loved collaboration of both our minds and hands. In order to transport Penelope (Penny for short) to various events and venues, only a minivan would work. And so my husband bought one as his daily driver, to accommodate Penny.
Love is expressed in many, many forms: flowers, chocolate, balloons and teddy bears. But for me, love is a minivan in our driveway, and Penny in the garage.
As an Adjunct Professor in the Hospitality Department of the local community college, I teach a Basic Culinary class to various groups of students.
Recently, one such class consisted of high functioning special needs teenagers and young adults who dove into the class with great enthusiasm. Everyone that is, except 'Sabrina'. Gentle prodding, enthusiastic encouragement, mild challenges - nothing got her up and out of her chair - until it was time to eat the fruits of our labor. She was always the first one up, waiting with her plate. The contents of which she usually proceeded to consume faster than anyone else, and then she was back for more. Fondly christened as the 'food pusher' by one of my previous employees, anyone who knows me will understand just how glad it made my heart that Sabrina enjoyed the food that we prepared so much.
On our final day of class, I asked each student to name, in turn, what specific techniques they had learned during their time there. 'Dicing'! 'how to mince garlic!', 'bechamel'! were some of the answers called out in rapid-fire succession. When it was Sabrina's turn, at first she wouldn't speak. Then, slowly, she said "how to boil water". I asked her to repeat herself, to make sure that I had heard right. Turns out, she meant exactly what she said. Nobody had told her that water needed to be boiled before pasta was added to it in order to cook properly. Unsurprisingly, macaroni and cheese and the pasta with marinara sauce that we had cooked were the two dishes she said she had most enjoyed.
And I was reminded again why I love teaching people how to cook. It doesn't have to be fancy, and it doesn't have to be complicated. All you have to do is learn how to boil water first.