Sugar gets a bad rap these days. To be fair, we take issue with the processed white stuff as well, which is why we only use raw cane sugar in all of our baking.
A little sugar, however, makes the day a little sweeter.
Cheeni, the Hindi word for sugar, is what we decided to name our brand new little spot in downtown Raleigh. Other than the fact that we borrowed the word from our existing brand of Sugar & Spice Kitchen, the space itself is so darned sweet. Tiny, but mighty, we're using it as an outlet to replicate our beloved and missed snack shops in India. These little shops dot the landscape with steaming hot cups of chai, frothy cups of South Indian filter coffee, and tangy snacks that pair perfectly with chai and coffee. Of course we had to offer cookies and baked goods as well.
Apparently, the word spread quickly - streams of Indians working downtown visited us last week. Watching them walk up to the doors, skepticism writ large on their faces - could it be possible that real chai and filter coffee were available just across the corner from their place of work? Of course we offered samples - one taste, and the smile that followed - that's all we needed to make our day that much sweeter.
All this to say thank you. Thank you, Raleighites (both of Indian, and non-Indian origin). Thank you for the welcome, thank you for coming back several times in one week, and thank you for spreading the word. Life is sweet, thank you for allowing us at Cheeni to make your day a little sweeter for you.
,Who's there? Opportunity.
And what do you do when opportunity doesn't merely knock and ask permission, it just about smacks you in the face? In my experience there are two types of people - one type who will ask, 'Opportunity who?', and the other who will ask, 'Opportunity where?'. I happen to belong to the latter group, which tends to make my husband a little nervous. Age and experience have taught me to arm myself with as much information as possible however, so I like to think that I've left the follies of my youth behind me.
But there hangs a sign in our kitchen that reads, 'Risks well taken'. Every time I see it, I'm reminded that without the blind leaps of faith I've taken throughout my life, this moment right now would be non-existent, or belong to someone else. Fear fuels me, for without it how would I build tenacity?
All this to say, watch this page. And our social media pages. We're about to open a door, and something fragrant and delicious is waiting on the other side of it. Stay tuned.
Since the last time I blogged, which was - yikes! - seven months ago, the following things have happened:
We sent our first-born out of the country. By herself. For five whole weeks.
We put our house on the market.
We found a house.
We took our house off the market.
We rented our house.
We returned to our booth at the Midtown Farmer's Market every Saturday.
We moved into our new house.
We spent two months remodeling our new house.
We moved into new kitchen space (but first we had to remodel it).
We moved our first-born child into her freshman dorm.
All this while still baking for market and for orders, making jam, preparing to open our shared kitchen, and begin offering cooking classes.
Goodness - is it any wonder that I've been unable to sit down, gather my thoughts, and blog? Now that we have the reasons for my blogging absence out of the way, stay tuned for weekly blogs once again. I certainly have enough material stored up to talk about!
Most of us don't like generalizations. I, for one, don't like to be lumped into a category to which somebody thinks I belong. Following that line of thought, it's insulting to say that all women like shiny things. In my mother's case, it just happens to be a true statement. Just how true, and just how much of a motivator it is for her, I'll let you decide.
If you refer back to this post https://www.sugarandspicekit.com/chit-chat/whats-in-a-name, it gives you just a smidgen of an idea as to what my mother's brain and body have been put through since October of last year. It is miraculous that she has survived, although her brain and heart function will never recover to their former capabilities. We're now used to her substituting words and names at random, and are mostly able to understand her references.
I was able to spend two weeks this past month with my mom, and I'll forever be grateful for that time. As the time ticked away though, I was all too aware that the entire family was traveling for a wedding soon, and that those plans had originally included my mom. None of us felt right about leaving her behind, but didn't know if her health would permit travel. Each day, after all, came with different challenges. Her doctor gave her the green light to travel, and we kept broaching the subject with her. At first, it was an emphatic 'no'. Slowly, we read between the lines and realized that she, who was always the most well-dressed person wherever she went, was embarrassed to be seen by the extended family. She had only worn loose gowns for comfort since October, and was already giving away her clothes, etc., resigning herself to never wearing her crisp cottons and beautiful silks again.
The minute she hesitantly said 'yes' and we booked her ticket, we saw the most incredible transformation begin to take place. She asked for the keys to her closet, and slowly began to choose outfits for the many functions during the wedding celebration. As she did so, the light began to return to her eyes, with a barely perceptible excitement. The next day we brought her jewelry box to her, and my mother started to go through her earrings and rings as though she had never expected to see them again. When she picked up her favorite pearl earrings - that she had specially made 35 years ago - and put them on, the smile that lit up her face is one I will never forget.
My mother made it to the wedding, and was able to meet the entire family. She dressed in her silks, wore her favorite jewelry, and even wore make-up. Like a magpie, it may seem as though it was the shiny things that motivated my mother to make the almost superhuman effort it took. But we, her family, know. Jasbir Kaur was not going to miss the opportunity to meet her son-in-law and grandchildren traveling all the way from the United States. She was not going to stay home and let a party happen without her. And she was certainly not going to miss the opportunity to be where the people she loves most in the world were all gathered together in one place.
God's grace, the devotion of the immediate family caring for her everyday, her medical team and a nutritious diet are responsible for the miracle that is her recovery. But it is her own grit and iron will that caused her to push, and not give up. Her children and their children carry those genes, and I only hope that when we face challenges in our lives, we can meet them the way she has. Even if it was only so she could wear her shiny things again.
I know, I know - that's supposed to be 2019. But I will gladly give 2018 that title. When I was younger, I could think of no better life than eating my way through the world. How this might be accomplished never crossed my mind, only that I oh-so-badly wanted to pick destinations based solely on the cuisine, travel there and pig out, all while never gaining an ounce, of course.
Then came marriage, and two baby carriages, one after the other. My husband, as much as he enjoys food, prefers it served at his own kitchen table. Decades passed, children grew, the schedule became a little more flexible, all without my really having realized it.
This summer, my brand-new eighteen year old and I embarked on a cross-country drive, based on carefully researched restaurants along the way. We dined sumptuously in some places, while some days we chose to forego a meal because we couldn't bring ourselves to stop for the available options. From a bacchanal of twelve courses one day to searingly spicy hot chicken the next, re-visiting an iconic childhood ice cream shop to coffee so bad that I couldn't drink it even though I desperately needed the caffeine, we sampled a lot on that road trip.
Then came an unexpected two-day trip to Providence, Rhode Island. How could I possibly have forgotten the existence of a world-class culinary school housed there, that churns out sorcerers who have opened restaurants, which fed me some of the finest meals I have consumed stateside?? And y'all, we live in Raleigh, where we already have access to some fantastic restaurants, am I right?
Then came my mother's sudden stroke, and I flew to my hometown in South India as soon as I could. Turns out, only being allowed to see her for 30 minutes, twice a day left a whole lot of time in-between. So what did we do? Why, we ate, of course. From the comfort of home cooking to street-side food vendors, fine dining restaurants to finger-licking chaat, I ate it all. Food is my old friend for distraction and comfort.
A week after returning, off we went to Spain for a pre-planned and pre-paid trip. Once again, from Madrid to Barcelona, we ate. And ate. An encounter with strangers at the next table led to them insisting that we share their bottle of Rioja, beginning a correspondence that still has a healthy amount of back-and-forth. Food halls and marketplaces, fine restaurants, veritable institutions in chocolate and churros, centuries-old bakeries. We devoured them all, and were amazed that we simply couldn't get enough of the simple, but crave-worthy flavors of Spain. Salmorejo was a revelation. I sampled my first sea urchin. And the list continues.
According to the Chinese, 2019 is the Year of the Pig. But if you've made it through this post, you'll agree that I was quite the piggy in 2018. And I wouldn't change a thing.
If your house looks like a Hallmark card, perfectly decorated and with the family in coordinated outfits wearing Colgate smiles, I don't think we can be friends.
Maybe because I was once that person. Forget Christmas, I decorated the house for EVERY holiday. I even had a generic-looking gold metallic tree that came with different sets of ornaments, one for every major holiday. Oh, and a two foot tall Mama Goose, who had a wardrobe of jackets and hats, one for every month of the year. All I can think now is that I must have been very sleep-deprived as a mother of young children, to think that these were the last word in holiday decorating.
In recent years, the boxes of holiday decorations have almost become the decorations, as they sit around in our front room for weeks, waiting to be opened. If we are expecting guests for the holiday, it becomes a mad dash of put-up-the-bare-minimum-that-you-can, before having to frantically-stash-boxes-out-of-sight ten minutes before our company arrives.
I'll admit that it makes me sad. To not see my girls' eyes light up when they came home from school to a fully decorated house. To not anticipate the first day of December because that was the day we put our everyday dishes away, and only used our gingerbread patterned dishes with red snowflake mugs for the rest of the month. Too many more little intangibles to recount here.
But I didn't realize that joy can suddenly erupt when you are not expecting it. At 11:50 a.m. today, I realized that my youngest was only ten minutes away from getting out of school for winter break, and I remembered how that felt as a child. All of a sudden, I was excited - it was the start of Christmas break! The end of the work week for my husband, and our last Farmer's Market of the year tomorrow. After Sunday, I don't have to fulfill any orders, nor rush through readying the house for company. I can stay in pajamas for three days straight, and have a Christmas movie marathon. And I like it. It may not look like Christmases past, but I'll have what I didn't even two years ago - time with my family. I'll put a bow on that.
You know it as yellow, neatly wrapped in a package. The generation before us bought into the marketing that 'couldn't believe it wasn't butter'. Because it was, y'know, yellow. And vaguely reminiscent of the real thing.
I also grew up with yellow butter, that came in a package claiming it was 'utterly, butterly delicious'. And my goodness, it really was. But when I dream of butter, it is soft, fluffy and white. The kind that most people have never tasted in their lives, unless they grew up on a farm. Or, like us, had a buffalo living on the back patio.
I come from sturdy farming stock, although after my father moved to India from his ancestral village at the time of the India-Pakistan partition he joined the army, and became a businessman thereafter. But, he always craved the taste of fresh milk, butter and yogurt, and what could be fresher than milking the cow or buffalo yourself twice a day?
As a very young child, my mother bought me my own child-sized butter churn. The satisfaction of churning fresh, cold milk over ice for what felt like hours until you could hear the milk make a different sound. Less slosh, and more resistance as the cream separated and formed into clouds of butter on the surface. Scooping a handful right out of the pot and burying my face in the fragrant butter is a feeling and taste I almost cannot describe.
Whether scooped onto a hot griddle flatbread called parantha, or sprinkling a little raw sugar on it and eating it with a spoon, that butter tasted luxurious, with a sweetness and slight tang that is missing in it's commercially produced, salted counterpart.
To this day, I feel immense satisfaction in just looking at butter. Hearing it sizzle in a hot pan just before I add the next ingredient. Watching it get creamy and fluffy when mixed with sugar at high speed in my giant mixer. Melting a pound of it in the double boiler with dark chocolate so it forms a shiny river of decadence.
But my favorite thing of all is when I end up with some butter on my hands, and don't wash it off. Instead, I find myself massaging it into my dry, over-washed hands while hearing my grandmother's voice in my ear telling me how good it is for my skin. She passed forty years ago, and yet I still hear her voice. And no surprise, she always smelled like fresh-churned butter.
My mother forgot my name today. And no, not in the way I forget my children's names sometimes, by listing all three dogs first, and then both children's names in birth order.
Let me backtrack. In early October this year, my mother suffered strokes on both sides of her brain. She lost her ability to speak, to breathe on her own, to swallow, to walk and to do the things most of us take for granted every single day. Heck, she almost lost her life in the first few weeks of being in the hospital. Several times, in fact.
Through it all, any time that she was even vaguely cognizant, all she said was "let's go", in our native tongue. All she wanted was to go home, and feel comfort in the familiar. More than a month in the Intensive Care Unit later, she was able to come home, much against her doctor's advise. Her recovery since then has been nothing short of miraculous.
Now that she is able to speak again, she talks without pause, and demands a 24 hour audience. My controlled, proud mother to whom appearances were everything appears to have left some of her inhibitions in the hospital, and now gleefully berates anyone she feels like. Shouts when she wants to. Melts into a puddle of smiles and love when she sees and talks about her grandchildren and some members of the family. And she forgets names.
On a video call with me this morning, recognition sparked when she saw my face, but she could not summon my name to her lips. Instead, I was called the word for spinach in Punjabi, which apparently has been her go-to word when she can't remember names. No matter. I will gladly be called any kind of vegetable if it means I still get to see love in her old eyes, which so mirror my own.
Turns out emotions need no names anyway, just so long as they can be felt.
Of all the holidays celebrated in America, Thanksgiving would be my favorite. After all, it revolves around food - vast, copious quantities of it - and you get to invite the people you want to share said food around a beautifully decorated table. The weather is (usually) perfect, the light outside is golden, and there's pie.
This year, even as I shop, prep and bake for orders, I am struggling to summon up the anticipation and joy that carries me through my favorite season. For the first time in years, we are not hosting Thanksgiving dinner. Too many losses of life, illness, relationship conflicts and more over the past year have me wanting to sit curled up on the couch with a book and a cup of hot chocolate.
Then we participated in the Holiday Market this past weekend, where I got to see people's eyes go wide at a taste of our pecan pie. A little girl with her pigtails askew who hopped up and down as she excitedly pointed to a cookie. A grown man (who is a fine cook himself) get rapturous over our cranberry chutney. Yes, it all made me happy, and reminded me of why I do what I do.
But, sitting like a lead brick in my tummy was the knowledge that immediately after Market, I was going to a Celebration of Life for a friend who decided that she couldn't go on any longer. As her obituary was read at the Celebration, it reminded me of the little girl at market, with her pigtails askew. My friend was once that little girl. Her daughter is not much older than that little girl. My teenage daughters were once that little girl. My friend's family has been devastated by three unexpected losses in the past year, and the fabric of their lives will never be whole again.
So, I may not celebrate in the same way this year, and that's okay. I have plenty of things to give thanks for, but more importantly, I want to live thankfully. Not by eating turkey and pie one day this year, but whenever I feel like it. Even if that means anxiously eating half a pie out of the pan while waiting for my teenage daughter to text me that she had arrived safely after her first solo road trip. Because life, love, balance, joy, stress - each one of those things looks different for each of us - and that's okay.
Here's wishing all of you a Thanksgiving holiday that allows you to celebrate the way you want to, and hopefully with whom you want to. If that means eating take-out by yourself in front of the television, that's okay. If it means going out to dinner with chosen family, that's okay too. I hope to bundle up, and walk around Lake Lynn while holding my husband's hand. And come home to pie.
As a first-time mother eighteen years ago, I thought I was prepared - after all, I had read 'What to expect when you're expecting' cover-to-cover. Plus, having grown up with three generations under the same roof, I had helped care for my new-born niece and nephew as well. My daughter was on the smallish side when born, and one look at her brought this roaring maternal lioness to life inside me. Combine that with the speed of how hard and fast I fell in love as soon as we locked eyes, and I was a goner.
Alarmingly though, she started losing weight after we took her home, and dropped to under six pounds. The pediatrician insisted on supplementing breast-feeding with formula, but that didn't sit well with me. Most days it seemed as though all I did was feed her, all day long. Then, it seemed as though it happened overnight, and this kid started to look as though someone had taken a bicycle pump to her. I even started calling her my Michelin tire baby. Fat babies are my favorite.
Soon it was time to supplement breast milk with solid foods, and apart from rice cereal, one of the first foods she had was pureed spinach. As I added more variety to her diet, it seemed as though she still couldn't get enough. Her favorite (as well as my second daughter's), was a sort-of soup: jasmine rice, (homemade) chicken stock, carrots, spinach and chicken breast cooked in a pressure cooker, then put through a food mill to make it safe and easy for her to eat. I would mix in a spoonful of plain yogurt, and my children ate it with great relish. At the age of nine months, I fed her pad thai that I had cooked for our dinner, and this child squealed with happiness. Apparently, food has always been our love language.
Fast forward a few years, and if my children were hungry, grumpy, or just needed a quick meal, I would make them a fried rice of sorts with spinach and eggs. Carbs, protein, healthy greens all covered, plus they ate it with plain yogurt. I've been made aware through the years that this combination, as well as all the things I cooked for them were considered 'weird' and 'gross' by several of their friends, and I was okay with that. After all, I wouldn't typically reach for rice, fish, fermented soybeans and umeboshi for breakfast, but Japanese children have been relishing it for centuries.
This past week, both children came home from each of their long, tiring days to spinach-and-egg fried rice. I can't remember the last time I had cooked it, but the satisfaction on their faces as they took the first bite made me wonder why I hadn't more often. They were no longer teenagers in this mama's eyes, but little girls with pigtails, looking at me like I could make all their boo-boos better.
Comfort looks and tastes different to each one of us. But it can be as simple as a bowl of rice. What does comfort look like to you? More importantly, who in your life could use some?