Saturday, 14 July 2012

Driving Mr N

I am currently spending a leisurely month at home in Delhi, on a brief break between the end of my working life and the resumption of my student life. I decided to use some of my time to pick up swimming once again and to try and learn driving. I was excited about polishing my rusty swimming skills. But the fear of knocking over a hapless pedestrian or an unlucky cyclist runs so deep in my mind, that the idea of sitting behind the wheel left me in cold sweat. That there is a strong bias against female drivers (or “lady drivers” as they are referred to in India, as if they are a sub-species of the human race that has suffered genetic mutations making it impossible for them to take to the wheel without causing severe damage to life and property) did not help my confidence. Two weeks into my morning driving lessons, I cannot claim to be confident enough to take on Delhi’s roads by myself but can truthfully say that my grip over the steering wheel is steady and self-assured. As a bonus, to my parents’ relief, I have preserved the general health and well-being of their car, having managed not to knock it into anything or anyone. Touchwood.
My father sat beside me in the passenger seat on day one of my driving project. On the first few days, the car was a jerky little thing in my hands, starting and stopping, starting and stopping as I struggled to understand the complex relationship between clutch, brake and accelerator. Cleverly using his bad back as an excuse, Papa then designated Mr N as my official driving instructor. I have had close to two weeks of classes now. It is evident that Mr N loves teaching. I can see his face shine as he goes about explaining the intricacies of the art of driving. He keeps up a non-stop commentary on obstructions several feet ahead of me as we proceed at 10 kmph on our quiet neighbourhood roads. Mr N does not subscribe to the popular theory on lady drivers. Or he claims not to anyway. On my first day, he proclaimed, “If women can drive aeroplanes, why not cars?”. He also introduced me to a parallel vocabulary on driving related terms. “Hold the car’s handle”, he says. He means the steering wheel.
I wake up at the ungodly hour of 5:30 am to go swimming in the pool across the road between 6-7 am. Why not a saner hour, you may well wonder. Well, my father insisted that he join me on my swimming project so that he can scream “Help! Help!” if I attempt to drown myself in the deep end, and sadly he couldn’t make a slot later than the 6 am one. As you can imagine, the 6-7 am slot is not a particularly popular one among the youth. It is largely favoured by auntyjis and unclejis in the >45 age group. Some are clearly expert swimmers and my father and I turn our heads sideways in awe to catch a peek at them as they speed past us. It strikes me that some of them probably swim faster than I drive. There are others though who provide us with morning entertainment. They thrash their hands and feet wildly as they fight with the water, making their way through it noisily. I call it the tractor stroke, because it really does look and sound like someone is running a tractor through the water.

After all this morning activity, I return home, famished, to a large breakfast. Delhi is so hot and muggy that it has been a while since I have entered the kitchen. I finally took the bull by the horns and decided to bake not one, but two cakes. A chocolate and vanilla cake and a zingy lemon cake. I used this recipe for a Lemon Yoghurt Cake by Ina Garten as the base for both cakes, which I was attracted to because it uses oil, not butter, which means a relatively low calorie cake. For the lemon cake, I stuck to the original recipe but omitted the lemon drizzle to cut down on the sugar, adding the juice of one lime in the cake batter instead. For the chcolate and vanilla cake, I simply omitted the lemon flavourings in the batter (and the lemon drizzle of course), split the cake batter into two, flavouring one half with cocoa powder leaving the other as is.

I then used the technique that is explained here (with very helpful pictures) to make zebra style patterns in the chocolate and vanilla cake. Unfortunately, I hadn't divided my cake batter equally into chocolate and vanilla portions and so ended up with more chocolate batter than vanilla batter. And so, as you will see in the pictures, I ended up with a few thin vanilla stripes and a thick chocolate one!

Both cakes were tasty, but didn’t rise as much as I’d hoped. And they didn’t have the warm buttery taste that comes from using generous quantities of butter in cake batter, but that of course, is only to be expected. I dressed up the lemon cake with a topping of store bought lemon curd, which made it even more citrusy, just the way I like it.

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