Friday, 17 February 2012

The Art of Deduction and a Moist Butter Cake

I am not much of a TV person. The flat that I currently live in has an imposing black wide screen TV, but I rarely switch it on. I like to have some peace and quiet when I come home, which means that I have ended up leaving my TV in a permanent state of coma.

But there is one series (if you can call it that, given the painfully small number of episodes that appear in a season) on BBC iPlayer that I have fallen head over heels in love with: Sherlock. The series is a modern take on the old classic by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The casting is simply superb. Stony faced Benedict Cumberbatch plays the socially inept master of deduction, Sherlock Holmes. Although not good looking in any conventional sense of the term, Cumberbatch is oddly attractive on screen as Sherlock Holmes despite his astonishing arrogance (the brunt of which is borne equally by the bumbling police officer on the case, and by his unfortunate companion, Watson) and an awful hairstyle. I didn't bother finding out the name of the actor who plays his sidekick, Dr Watson. But with his amiable but permanently worried face, he fits the character to a T. Together, the two make a delightful pair to watch on screen.

The best part of each episode is how they spell out Sherlock's deductive reasoning. Sometimes, it is just Sherlock spewing brillance in a quick rush of words and exasperatedly explaining how plainly obvious the solution to a convulated case is, leaving everybody on screen (and certainly, everyone off it as well) visibly astounded. At other times, the viewer sees words, figures and images popping up just next to Sherlock's curly locks as he stares deep into space, representing the thoughts zipping past each other inside his head.

Very recently, I managed to lay my hands on a DVD of Season 1 of Sherlock. If I could have, I would have probably watched the entire season in a single sitting. Practical constraints, including the fact that I needed to turn up at least half awake at work the next day, meant that I eventually decided to drop that idea, and staggered my viewing pleasure over a few days. In all honesty, I looked forward to coming home on those evenings so I could watch more of the season (and Benedict Cumberbatch in particular). I am done with the DVD now. I do wish the folks at the BBC would hurry up and come up with season 3.

There have been so many adapatations of Sir Conan Doyle's original work over the years. In fact, we did have an Indian version of Sherlock Holmes back when I was growing up: Byomkesh Bakshi. Those of you who grew up in India in the late 80s and early 90s may remember the dapper Rajat Kapoor in a crisp Bengali dhoti bravely taking on the criminals of Calcutta, accompanied by his Dr Watson-style friend, Ajit. I was probably no more than 7 or 8 years old when the series played on Indian TV. But I was a loyal fan of the series, and of the impressive Rajat Kapoor in particular. I was delighted to discover recently that the entire series is available on youtube. For those of you who grew up watching the series and would like to listen once again to the haunting tune that played in the background at particularly tense moments in the series, or see Rajat Kapoor in action as Mr Bakshi or just reconnect with Indian television of their childhood, I would definitely recommend a watch.

Other than Sherlock Holmes, I have been kept busy and out of trouble by my trusty oven. On special request from a colleague at work, I baked a butter cake using this recipe at this wonderful blog: Maria's Menu. Maria's Menu has an excellent collection of traditional Malayali recipes as well as a great range of recipes for cakes and other baked delights. I have never really ventured to make a plain simple vanilla cake, but the "requester" was fairly specific in his demands. Apparently, he hates chocolate with a vengeance, dislikes bites of cake being rudely interrupted by meddlesom bits of fruit or nut and likes his cakes plain with just a hint of vanilla. And so when I saw the recipe for a "moist butter cake" on Maria's website, I decided this was the recipe I was going to use.

I made a few very minor tweaks to the recipe: I added in 1/4 tsp salt to the recipe, because I feel a teensy bit of salt makes the cake rise better. Don't ask me what the alchemy behind it is, I just know it works. Just like I know 4 is my lucky number! I also used just self rising flour for the recipe, instead of using part plain flour and part self rising flour, as called for in the recipe, simply because I didn't have any self rising flour to hand! I can assure you the results were good, regardless.

As usual, my pictures of the final outcome do no justice at all to what it actually tasted of looked like. I know a picture is worth a thousand words and all that, but please do yourself a favour and ignore the cliche on this ocassion. In the meantime, I promise to work on my photography skills. Something tells me it will be a long and arduous climb.

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