Monday, July 18, 2016

Piece of Cake!

“Could you make me a toilet bowl cake with the poo inside?” asked a recent customer. I was silent for a moment. 

“You want Winnie the Pooh in a commode?”

“No no… POO. Faecal matter.”

“Uh… sure. Why not.” It wasn’t the strangest request I’d gotten, after all.  This, I thought to myself, is what I do for the sake of my craft.

Five years ago, I forgot my father’s birthday. Family tradition dictated that I should have put months of pre-planning and thought into making as big a fuss of the event as I possibly could… and I had forgotten. I scurried around the house in a panic, trying to find something… anything, that could be up-cycled into a quick gift that I could pass off as an eco-friendly attempt at ‘it’s the thought that counts’. Nothing.  With dawn creeping up, I had to come up with a plan before Birthday Boy woke. I spontaneously decided I would bake a cake. The problem was, I’d never baked a cake before in my entire life, let alone at 1 am. Google became my best friend as I furtively looked up tutorials.  Being me and therefore being an utter fool, I decided my cake would be a glorious fondant sculpted number.

I was also a determined fool. That night, I taught myself how to bake from scratch (I feel like the Guinness world record committee needs to be informed). By morning, my father descended the stairs to find an odd-looking edible product on the table that was meant to resemble him.  Sri Lankan parents, as you well know, will never admit to the fact that a child’s attempt at culinary art looks like something the cat dragged in. Never mind that the child was well into mid-life crisis age. The questionable looking lump of roasted batter was photographed from all angles and accepted with pride and joy, even displayed later that evening for all and sundry visiting. Uploaded pictures sparked off actual cake orders along with a swollen ego, and thus a monster was born; I became a cake artist. 

Cake pans of all sizes were bought, the fridge stuffed with butter and my pantry turned into a wonderland of glittery, colourful clutter and spilled icing sugar, much to the delight of the residential ant colonies. Early years of obsessively fiddling about with Playdoh had cultivated a knack for sugar art, resulting in clients attempting creative insanity with each order.  What started out as an ego-driven hobby soon turned into a nightmare, with sleepless nights and tears over burned batter. Five years hence I am questioning my existence every time the cat tips over a wedding cake that’s been 3 days in the making. Just as I’m about to throw in the towel, I see everyone and their grandmother starting to bake novelty cakes and my competitive drive kicks in again. Sleep be damned. I will produce a toilet bowl cake with crap in it. 

And this time… I know how to bake.


I was recently watching Masterchef, where a hapless contestant was struggling under pressure to poach an egg.  The pompous judge kept telling him about the degree of difficulty, and reminded him of past contestants who’d mucked up. 

I scoffed. Give me a break. How can poaching eggs cause this much consternation? All this talk of difficulty was just rubbish for entertainment value. 

Come to think of it, I’d never had a poached egg before (I belong to the dark ages). I suppose I’d never even ordered one because it didn’t look particularly enticing. A large white blob of gelatinous goo, like an albino snotball. If the Abominable Snowman had a cold, he’d produce poached eggs. 

But I’ll try anything once. How difficult could poaching an egg be? According to Masterchef, it was just a case of cracking it into a pot of boiling water and then flicking around with a spoon and voila, gourmet breakfast is born. Simple.

Clearly, I was meant to learn from my mistake of judging a book by its cover, or in this instance an egg by its shell.

I strode confidently into my kitchen. It took me around 4 minutes to get some water bubbling and then, with the flair of Jaimie, I took out an egg and cracked it into the water.


Ew. Ew. Eeeew. My snotball was looking like mucous from hell. There was nothing artful about the swirling ribbons of goo filling the pot. It looked like exploded pus. Ew.

I tried again. Out came another egg and more water that ended in the same gunky result. My image as a fantastic cook was being questioned by the universe. How dare the egg Gods laugh at me! I would get this right, somehow.

I consulted various cookery books and the internet for tips on poaching. I’d bet no one has ever ventured into this extent of research before. I found there were different opinions on how to produce the perfect poached egg. Martha Stewart suggests just 2 inches of water. Nigella says you should swirl the water before cracking the egg in. One website asked me to dunk the whole egg, sans cracking, into the water first. Another advised the use of a poaching tool. 

Trick after trick resulted in the same, if not worse, mess. After one hour and considerable stress, I was down to my last egg and nerve.  If this didn’t work, I would give up eating eggs altogether. I tried a combination of techniques- first dunking the egg and then cracking it into pre-swirled water of 2 inches. It worked!  Unbelievable. 

Joyfully, I fished out a wobbling, perfectly formed, gleaming white poached egg and placed it delicately  on a piece of toast before taking about 300 photos. Then, with mixed emotions of pride and marvel, I broke it with a fork and allowed the golden goodness of yolk to run over the toast. I took up a forkful and put it in my mouth.

Tasted like snot.

Stop and Smell the Gandapaana

 Published in LMD Living - May 2016

“I can’t remember when I last had the luxury of time to read more than a page of a book, and that too, only on the toilet seat” a colleague recently shuddered. A valid and ponder-worthy insight to life today.  The rising cost of living has also raised blood pressures considerably in what was once a lazy little island that could teach the Mexicans a thing or two on the art of the 24-hour siesta. The urban jungles of Sri Lanka have in recent times turned into something of a mental asylum for bees. We are yet to reach the suicidal stress levels of the Indians or Chinese, but it certainly looks like we’re on our way there.  Conversations between aunties that were previously centred on the price of pumpkins have now evolved into the lack of time to go and buy said pumpkins. Uncles are becoming more and more frequent visitors at the cardiologist’s clinic because the source of their coronaries are no longer only their daughters, but also the stresses of keeping up with the day-to-day pace of life.  Given the booming business of self-help books and stress therapy Youtube videos out there, it seems the whole world is suffering a massive existential crisis and needs all the motivation it can get.  

Where did we go so wrong? The insipid inspirational memes are quite right – we’re all slaving away to earn the ability to afford a life we have no time to lead. If you think about it (providing you actually have the time to think about it)… at some point of our lives, we forgot the point of life. We sit at our monochromatic cubicles, slurping up copious amounts of coffee designed to keep us positive until it’s time to clock off, wishing for the utopian day when we could be living the Pinterest life. We cower to the system that breathes over our shoulders like a disapproving grandmother and before too long, ‘someday’ becomes a mere catchphrase that never sees the light of reality and you’re left wheezing on your deathbed, wondering where the time went.

It may be too much of an ask to completely rehash life just like that and go on that world tour like you’ve always wanted, but perhaps it’s time we considered listening to the Deepak Chopras of the universe, and adopted a few tiny changes to our daily ritual, that could in turn make our day slightly more interesting than the pimple on our management’s backside that we hate to kiss but still do, for the sake of that monthly pay packet.  Maybe if we actively seek to de-stress even for a few minutes as a mandatory chore for the day, it could eventually lead to a semblance of much-needed bliss that doesn’t cost an overworked arm and leg. To make the transition easier, here are three tried and tested tricks you could take up:

1.       Spend an extra five minutes on the loo. Admit it, unless you’ve got serious infections in your underparts, you’ve never felt more serene than when seated on your own private throne. Just increase the time limit, ignore whoever is banging on the door, and sing ‘Let it Go’ while you’re at it.

2.       Stop and smell the Gandapaana. Gardens are a beautiful thing. If you don’t have one, break into your neighbour’s or find a random patch of green and imagine you’re Maria in the Sound of Music. Fresh grass feels amazing, when not riddled with dog poo, and can give you just the peace you need.
3.       Get a pet. Dogs, cats, hamsters, chickens… whatever works for you. Cuddling an animal, providing it’s not a scorpion, has an uncanny knack for making you feel more relaxed than your spouse ever did.

There you go; your DIY starter kit to less stress and hopefully more reasons to smile through the rat race. You’re welcome.

Grammar Nazi

Picture the scenario. The setting – a sweltering tuition class packed to the brim with students, like prawns in Negombo fishing nets. 

Enter lanky, lazy boy whose mother has forced him to be here but forgot to make sure he wears a belt. Five minutes later, enter giggly girl latched onto the arms of other girls who are equally giggly.  

Boy sees girl. 

Girl sees boy.

Boy and girl fall madly and immaturely in deep infatuation. 

A network operation worthy of the KGB is soon put into action, with mutual friends getting in on the scheme to do some background research in order to procure girl’s number for boy. On finding out that he wishes to make contact, her heart thumps in excitement and a grand overture of romantic orchestral music begins playing in her head. Coy looks are sneaked in each other’s directions as the girl’s phone beeps in a text message that she has difficulty opening on account of her shaking hands.

Hi gurl u luk so Qt wil u b my GF? Mt me @ da bus halt l8tr babee.

The music screeches to an abrupt halt as her face and fake eyelashes drop. The boy has just revealed himself to be an utter moron, incapable of constructing a proper sentence. Herein endeth all future potential for courtship or his success in life.

At least, that’s how this writer hopes the story goes. There is no excuse for bad spelling and lack of grammatical eloquence when it comes to the art of wooing. The first step to making a good impression- stop murdering the Queen.  

To call the new-fangled language of the youth ‘irksome’ is an understatement.  It is frustrating.... ludicrous... discombobulating (At this point, any persons below 30 reading this article would have turned the page, proving the point) at best and agonizing to read.  When did Sri Lanka’s grandiose status of highest literacy level in Asia reduce to such use of rubbish? What’s even more tragic is that the media celebrates the trend (rather, the speedy descent of intelligence) by adding fuel to the fire. A recent scan through social media resulted in a throbbing headache, thanks to the number of ‘lol’s,  Kewl’s and ‘baybeh’s floating around in web space. Popular memes sporting lines like ‘Y U NO DO DAT’ or ‘I can haz ur nomz?’ just take that headache all the way to the intestinal region. Facebook should be renamed Facepalm. Twitter now showcases more twits than tweets. The only positive result in continuing this way without correction is that when Armageddon comes and the aliens invade, at least we’ll all be speaking the same language. 

The younger the generation, the lesser the inclination seems to be to type a word longer than three characters at most. Today’s children seem to believe that punctuation is the name of a vaccine and syntax the latest clothing material. Grammar would be what you call your mother’s mother.

Methinks official punishment on a national scale is befitting for the misuse of the English language. Flog them all, and if they don’t know what the word flog means, flog them some more. Put them in prisons with wall-to-wall blackboards and make them write elaborate sentences a thousand times over.  Those violating the rules of English on social media should be flagged as ‘textual predators’ and shunned in public.
“Don’t be such an archaic prude”, a teenager chortles when lectured on incorrect spelling.  Apart from points for knowing the word archaic, all he will get is a slap in reply should he continue his case, but he prevails. “Chill, aunty… its SMS lingo. Put that umbrella down.” 

No, it is NOT any sort of lingo.  It is vulgar and disrespectful to the beauty of a 2500 year-old language, to distort it to a bunch of meaningless phonetics just because your immature fingers are in a hurry to go play a game instead of making the effort to craft your correspondence. So this umbrella will STAY poised to attack unless the effort is made. 

Totes. Got dat?

Plates, Pubs and Pigs.

It irks me that Belgian food is not given its due hallelujah in this country. I assume it’s because not enough Belgians want to leave the motherland and bring recipes here, since they’re too busy with their national sport - eating. If there’s one thing the Belgians do right, its cuisine. The land that invented the French fry (did you know?) manages to serve up a ménage à trois of French, German and Italian flavours melded together into a distinctly fabulous taste of its own.  

As always, my interaction with food comes packaged with drama and I have memories attached to every meal I had during my stay in Belgium. Once, I was starving at lunchtime after a very long day, when my hostess announced she would be serving Endives (pronounces ‘ondeev’). ‘Endives!’ I thought excitedly. What a gloriously exotic name for a dish I imagined would be filled with sizzling goodness. She held up a large plate and my tummy groaned in anticipation. She set it down and my mouth groaned instead.
An onion.  

A single, large, penile-shaped, lettuce-y onion. 

I looked up at her in askance; perhaps she had missed something? She beamed back, interpreting my stare for amazement.  Sighing, I ate my onion, which, by the way, tasted better than I’d expected. 

If lunch was a dismal start then dinner was overkill. I showed off my complete incompetency in French by ordering something pronounced ‘Jhombone’ off the menu at a pub.  The waiter did a double take and looked at me suspiciously. “Pour vous, mademoiselle?” Was that a tinge of surprise I noted in his voice? “Oui” I sniffed, for it was the only word I knew. Minutes later he pushed out a slab of wood atop which sat an entire leg of pork larger than my barstool. My heart sank at the fact that I would now have to eat this monstrosity, since in Belgium leaving food on your plate is considered an insult. given that it all happened  quite a few years before my conscience high-kicked me into the struggling vegetarian I am today, I channelled my inner Obelix and set about eating what, frightening dimensions aside, was truly and utterly delicious. Amazingly, I managed to eat every bit, even if it did take me two hours and left me looking like the enormous pig whose leg I’d just consumed.  

One occasion had me trapped in a loo for over an hour, a trauma which the highly apologetic hostess tried to placate with a dish of frogs legs and snail that just sent me back to the toilet once I’d found out what it was. Another time I was served a fantastic lobster whose claw, thanks to my limited cutlery skills, ended up on my hostess’s head. A visit to a brewery had me, the ignorant, tasting a rackful of 15 beer varieties and singing bawdy limericks at the top of my voice on the streets of Brussels. Thank heaven the lyrics were in my mother tongue and not theirs, else I'd have been propositioned.

From meats to mussels and cheeses to chips, Belgian food is designed to turn you into a glutton. Try it out.  Just make sure you know French first.