Friday, July 15, 2011

My pick-me-up

Whenever he gets on the subject of filter coffee, Appa gets quite lyrical. He waxes poetic on how the decoction collects in a pool under the filter, drop by precious drop. How the milk is warmed gently, so as not to startle it, and then the decoction is poured into it in a steady stream. He describes how the concentrate blooms in brown ripples in the white milk. Then how the coffee is poured back and forth between utensils to warm it to tongue-blistering temperatures without allowing it to boil over, and to develop a thick froth on its surface. And then finally how it’s poured, masterfully, into a steel tumbler and must be drunk hot. Immediately.

But that is his description, not mine. For twenty three years, I’ve been able to take or leave coffee, as it comes. Indeed, my indoctrination into this coffee-drinking culture has been so subtle that I’ve only just realised it. But three months in Chennai, spent with relatives whose day doesn’t begin without a brimming tumblerful of coffee prepared just as described, made me appreciate its value. Recent events: an overload of work and a pleasant but time-consuming distraction, have made me cut down on sleep and so become more and more dependent on caffeine.

It has taken me a while and much experimentation, to decide exactly how I like my coffee. I tried it in Appa’s way. It wasn’t for me. His coffee was so hot I lisped for a week afterwards. Perima makes a smashing, perfect-temperatured cup of coffee, but she lives in Coimbatore: impractical for a weekday morning coffee run. Amma, with the best of intentions, is determined to make me drink as much milk as possible, and so adds far too much of it to my coffee. As for the cook’s coffee, ah, the less said, the better. I finally decided to take matters into my own hands, inspired by this recipe on Food52.
It was a weekend morning, humid and drizzly. Panda stared pensively out of the window while I boiled my water. We waited together for the decoction to percolate. When I finally had a little brown pool, I stirred in some brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon. A generous clattering of ice cubes and a pour of milk later, it was ready.

I took a sip and I knew. I finally loved coffee.  

Friday, July 08, 2011


I have a pretty deep aversion to milk. Apparently, this wasn’t always so. Amma tells me that when I was a baby I couldn’t get enough of the stuff. I’d stand up in my crib and point to the milk cooling atop the fridge, demanding a bottleful. However that may be, as far back as I can remember I’ve always looked upon milk with suspicion.

When we lived in Delhi last, we were in the thick of the White Revolution. Amma would send me to the local Mother Dairy outlet with a milk pail and coins jingling in my pocket. I’d stand in line to wait my turn, then insert a coin, and the milk would come gushing out from a hole in the wall.

I remember how Amma would place a tall glassful of steaming milk mixed with Bournvita before me, each morning and evening. I’d sit at the table and stare at it, watching with morbid fascination the yellow, glistening drops of fat that would float on its surface. The undissolved Bournvita would swim about in brown specks. As the milk cooled, a thin skin would form on and I would watch, unable to look away, and grow more and more disgusted.

Amma would catch me at it and scold. Finally, I’d hold my nose and chug it all down, only to breathe in immediately afterward and be hit by its full flavor. That sweet, almost animal scent would send me rushing to the sink to regurgitate everything I had just imbibed.

Ah, considering I’m here to tell you about a milkshake, I realise that wasn’t the best preamble. But bear with me, I'm getting to the good stuff. Of late, I’ve made my peace with milk. As long as its true nature is disguised I quite appreciate it. I grate cheese into my sandwiches, mix curd into my rice, and eat copious amounts of ice cream. I boil it and thicken it into custards and puddings, and blend it into milkshakes: my latest addiction.

These days after the dog and I come in from our morning run, he heads panting for his water bowl, and I head for the blender. I use milk that’s been frozen solid and so is quote odourless. It’s deeply satisfying to gouge away at that block of ice with a fork till I have enough chunks for a glassful. Then I add in whatever strikes my fancy. Some days it’s coffee and cinnamon, on others it’s mango chunks and saffron, and on the boring days, it’s simply cocoa. Of late though, it has been jackfruit jam, and it is ohsogood. Indeed, it’s so good that my words run in together whenever I try to describe it.

The jackfruit jam isn’t my own invention. It is something Perima makes for me. She does it in large batches: the flesh from ten jackfruits is piled into a giant mound and steamed in a pressure cooker till it is soft and slippery. Then, an equal quantity by weight of jaggery is added, and the mixture is stirred for hours, till it turns shiny and unctuous. This reduction can be added to coconut milk for a payasam I’ve had happy dreams about. It can be slathered on buttered toast for a very rich breakfast. It can be eaten in large spoonfuls, standing, with the refrigerator door open. And it can be blended with frozen milk and a grating of nutmeg, for the best milkshake I’ve ever tasted.

The nutmeg adds a whole new dimension to the shake, something that only when you taste it all together you realise was missing. It adds an exotic sort of warmth to the background, and pleasantly dispels any hint of milky or overly-jackfruity smells. Chugged down with a couple of shortbread cookies, this makes for a pretty spectacular way of getting your daily calcium.