Monday, 4 February 2013

Holidaying in Chotty

Photo credit: My brother!

When my brother and I were little, we spent every other summer holiday visiting our relatives in Kerala. My mother is city-bred. Holidays with her family meant access to television, movies and neighbourhood bakeries. Every evening, my grandfather would return home from work with a packet of goodies, having stopped at his favourite bakery on his way home. Some days, we were treated to spicy meat puffs. On other days, it was sweet, plump jilebis, the Malayali version of the crisp North Indian jalebi. When it was time for us to pack up and leave, we were as miserable as our grandparents were. They would be out in the verandah waving us goodbye as we left with suitcases heavy with treats to carry back with us to Delhi where humdrum routine awaited us.

My father grew up in a small, little known part of Kanjirapalli in Kottayam. Even those who have spent their
entire lives in Kottayam profess ignorance when we mention Chotty. In the early years, our ancestral home had no access to electricity. Evenings were spent in the company of oil lamps. Chotty is full of rubber plantations, which attract hordes of a certain type of insect, a distant relative of the mosquito. These mosquito lookalikes took an immediate, inexplicable liking for my blood. I’d return from each holiday in Chotty with little red bites all over my arms and legs. Luckily for my brother, the insects did not take to him. This puzzled me. I was a skinny kid, he was the chubby one. Surely it would be more fun to chew on his baby fat than to attack my bony frame, I wondered.  Coupled with the lack of access to television and bakery treats, these pesky insects that were besotted with me ensured that I did not look forward to holidaying in Chotty. I craved the comforts of city life as soon as we arrived there.  

But there were many benefits of holidaying in Chotty that now seem magical to me, which I disregarded as a child. From time to time, one of my uncles reared honeybees in a little rectangular wooden box perched on a stand in the garden. I have a vivid memory of sitting on the steps to our home, aged around seven or eight, munching on a generous piece of honeycomb oozing honey, watching the rains lash across Chotty. 

There were cashewnut trees close to where we lived. Once, my father lit an impromptu fire in our backyard and we roasted cashewnuts. I remember cracking open the kernels and munching on the crunchy nuts inside.
There was a ready supply of fleshy jackfruit. As soon as one ripened, some able bodied person in the family would swing it over their shoulder and carry it into the kitchen. There, the women of the family would quarter the fruit. We cousins used our nimble fingers to coax the flesh out of the sticky insides of the jackfruit. Only a fraction of the fruit actually made its way to the vessel that we were meant to drop it into. Most of it made its way into our bellies before then.

I was in Chotty for a couple of weeks last month, the first such long holiday that I have had there in many years. Usually, I end up spending much of my holiday with my parents in Delhi. This time round, they decided to flee Delhi’s cold wave and spend their annual break with family in Kerala. With the luxury of leisure, through my adult eyes, Chotty’s beauty finally became evident to me.

I recently watched The Life of Pi on the big screen. The themes of religion and faith that the movie is based on appealed to me, but what captivated me most about the movie was its magical imagery which I carried in my head days after I watched it. I wondered if there is a place that comes close. When I arrived in Chotty and took in its sights, I realised that the magic was right there under my nose. I returned to Boston from Kerala recently, and have only just had the chance to type up this post and look through the many pictures taken on holiday. I had promised a recipe in my last post and here it is. French Yoghurt Cake. This is an easy, butter-less recipe from that I have now tried several times with great results. Other than a few tweaks, which made the cake extra moist, I have stuck to the original recipe for the most part.

Happy baking, and belated wishes for the year ahead. 

French Yoghurt Cake (adapted from this recipe)

nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup yoghurt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs beaten well (preferably using a blender) unti foamy
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
sliced almonds to garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a standard loaf pan with nonstick vegetable oil spray. Dust with flour; tap out excess. Whisk 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, baking soda and 3/4 teaspoon  salt in a medium bowl. Add yoghurt, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla extract; whisk to blend. Fold in dry ingredients just to blend. Do not overmix. A few lumps are fine. Pour batter into prepared pan; smooth top.  Top with sliced almonds. Bake until top of cake is golden brown and a tester inserted into centre comes out clean, 50-55 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Invert onto rack; let cool completely.  

1 comment:

  1. Kerala, God's own country, is a must see destination in the whole world.
    One of the most beautiful states inIndia with undulating hills, golden beaches.
    Holidaying in Kerala @