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Thursday, 21 February 2013

Let it Snow

* Title based on this song sung by Frank Sinatra. 

Photo credit: Alexis Eggermont
I have never been fond of cold weather. In Delhi, where I grew up, the temperature often dipped to a few centigrade over zero. As a schoolgirl, I fought a daily tug of war with my parents, ignoring their wake up calls  and digging myself deeper under the covers as long as I could. Finally, I would climb defeatedly out of bed, brush my teeth and then rush out of our freezing bathroom, not quite having dried my mouth, to plonk myself next to the heater in the living room to warm my hands and feet. I could have stayed there all morning, toasting my skin to a crisp had it not been for a parent, half-crazed with the impossible task of getting two pre-teens ready for school, barging into the room with some threat to induce me away from the heater and into my school uniform. Mostly it worked. On other days, I would end up missing my school bus and my father would have no choice but to abandon his morning ritual of scanning the newspaper to drop me to school.

Although it can get quite cold in Delhi, our homes aren't built in readiness for winter. Our current home in Delhi, for instance, has a medium-sized window in either bathroom, strategically positioned by a doubtlessly evil architect so as to let the weakest winter winds pass through its cracks.

But there are quirks of Delhi winters that I now find amusing. When we were little, the most popular way to cover little heads and ears from the cold was to use "monkey caps", known more respectably as balaclavas in the rest of the world. One cannot fault the name 'monkey cap" though, for we did look like monkeys in them. For some unfathomable reason, they came in the ugliest colours imaginable. I have yet to set my eyes on a pretty pink monkey cap or a bright blue one. If it is a monkey cap, it has to be ugly. I believe that outside of India, the primary consumers of balaclavas are soldiers and bank robbers. Exactly why headgear this unattractive and with such lethal connotations was unleashed by Delhi parents on their wards remains unclear to me. Although young, my brother and I had a half formed sense of aesthetics, and we resisted the monkey cap as valiantly as we possibly could. I have no doubt that our efforts would have made any style diva proud. But mostly we failed, as young children typically do in crusades against unrelenting parents.

My school uniform did not help matters. We had "physical training" (sports class, abbreviated to "PT") a couple of times a week. Our PT uniform was a cotton shirt and a skirt, yes a skirt, that we were constrained to wear even in the harshest winters. We did have a blazer and sweaters for protection though. And so, it was my legs that bore the brunt of the winter. My thin stockings did little good in rescuing me from the cold. I remember shaking from the cold on many winter mornings as I waited for the school bus with my father, water bottle in hand, and a satchel on my back. On those mornings, it was with a tremendous sense of relief that I welcomed the school bus as it sleepily made its way to my bus stop.

Like children (and some adults) in cold climes elsewhere, I never missed an opportunity in the winter to draw temporary graffiti with my fingers on glass. In our car, my brother and I would scrunch ourselves into awkward positions to draw squiggly figures in the foggy glass windows. As soon we got out of the house, we'd exhale deeply through our mouths and marvel at the "smoke" that we had just generated.

These small benefits aside, the point remains that I never particularly enjoyed the cold. But as they say, fate is cruel, and perhaps with full knowledge of my dislike for the cold, it brought me first to London where I spent the last four years, and in a classic case of moving from the frying pan into the fire, to wintry Boston.

We had a snowstorm here in Boston a few weeks ago. They called it Nemo. Why name a frightening snowstorm after a cute fish from Hollywood, I wondered. Luckily for us, Nemo was relatively kind to us and did no harm other than making scary noises outside as we stayed warm indoors. Many of my classmates, especially those accustomed to tropical weather, lost no time in rushing out into the snow to make snowmen, build mini igloos and throw snowballs at each other. I was less than enthusiastic for reasons that must be largely clear if you have followed the post this far. 

Not long after though, I was caught in a flurry of snow. Although I have seen snowfall before, I never did pay very much attention to it. My observation skills, I have to confess, are not the best. Besides, I was too distracted worrying about how the snow would turn to messy slush before we knew it, to pause and watch it fall. But this time, I noticed the tiny snowflakes as they fell gently on my jacket. They were perfectly formed, symmetrical and utterly beautiful. I spent a few minutes staring at my arm, as the snowflakes deposited themselves steadily on my jacket. A reminder from nature that if you look hard enough, you can find beauty in unexpected places.

At the end of this long and rambling post, I must get to the point - food - and tell you about some of the nicer restaurants and cafes that I have sampled so far on my student budget in Cambridge, offering good food and refuge from the cold. The list is embarrassingly short, but I promise to keep it updated over the next three semesters that I will spend in Cambridge as a student before I return to the big, bad world. 

Here are my recommendations:

Cafes
The Friendly Toast
True to its name, this is a friendly cafe close to Kendal/MIT (around a ten minute walk). They have the most extensive brunch menu I have come across in recent times, delicious caramel hot chocolate, relatively good service and a happy vibe. Be prepared for a long wait though. This place is popular. We waited fifty minutes for our table for three.

Cafe Crema
A nice alternative to Starbucks. I tried their Felipe's Hot Chocolate, which is flavoured with cinnamon and chilli. I loved it.

Sugarcane and lemon juice at Orinoco.
Chinese
A friend brought me here to celebrate Chinese New Year. She overestimated our appetite somewhat and before we knew it, there was no space on our table with all the food piled high on it. Everything was delicious, and I am assured by reliable sources that it is all authentic. Even the frog's legs that we had as one of the mains... 

Tibetan
I loved the calm vibe that this restaurant exudes. The flavours reminded me of Indian food, but our meal was much lighter and milder than an Indian meal would have been. Highly recommend. 

Venezuelan
This Venezuelan restaurant dishes out delicious empanadas. My only gripe concerns the empanada: salad ratio on my plate. My meal came with too few empanadas and quite a lot of salad. We also tried their sugarcane and lemon juice. Unfortunately, it was too lemony for my liking.                 

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