Sunday, 15 May 2016

Birthday Cake and A Driving Test

For my brother, clearing the driving test as soon as he turned 18 was a critical rite of passage to adulthood. For me, not so much.

The roads of Delhi - where I grew up - were maddening. Regulation signs were taken as gentle suggestions, and flouted routinely - by pedestrians trying to squeeze through rush hour traffic, by drivers jumping red lights with abandon, and by scooterists and cyclists weaving through traffic, lanes be damned. At all times, there was a steady cacophony of unnecessary honks.  

It didn't help that I had no interest in cars. As my brother practiced for real life driving with video games, eyebrows furrowed in deep concentration that he reserved for nothing else, I busied myself with pursuits that had nothing to do with brake, clutch or accelerator.

My tort and criminal law classes, where I learnt about the hazards of being less than your best self behind the wheel in some detail, only cemented my aversion. I decided that I was better off in the passenger seat.

For a long time, this strategy worked very well. It worked in Bangalore, where cars were a rarity among us cash strapped students. It worked even better in London, where a tube stop was always only a short walk away. And it worked pretty well during my student days in Boston - so many problem sets were stacked up in front of me at any given time that I didn't have very many places to go other than the classroom.

And then, I moved to California. Even though we are in the Bay Area, which has a somewhat functional public transport system, it became obvious to me that my long running strategy of staying put in the passenger seat was beginning to fail. It fell to my husband to chauffeur me around - it was a role that he played with considerable grace, but I knew that it was time to change things around.

Before long, I was taking driving lessons with an affable Filipino driving instructor, Roberto. Many Saturday and Sunday afternoons were spent driving the roads of Daly City, with Roberto in the passenger seat speaking of his love for Indian food, especially fish tikka masala, and his Indian friend, Satinder.

Working with an expert helped. Still, it took six lessons before I felt ready for a behind-the-wheel test. Test day was nerve racking, to say the least. There were some smiley faced examiners milling around, but as luck would have it, I was assigned to a bubble-gum chewing, stony faced, no-nonsense type, who looked like she got up on the wrong side of the bed. As I clutched the steering wheel with sweaty palms and navigated the test route, I saw her take notes on my marksheet from the corner of my eye. Before I knew it, we were done. Her first words were, "You need a lot of practice", and it took a few anxious moments before she said the magic words. I'd passed!

Now, with my newfound confidence, and freshly minted driver's license, I take every chance I can get to slide into the driver's seat. I didn't think I would say this, but it feels good.

In other news, I baked a birthday cake with lots of colorful sprinkles for a little girl I know. I relied on my trusty recipe for chocolate cake, but I looked far and wide before settling on this recipe for the icing. It is a fiddly recipe to work with, but the results do not disappoint. It is important to sift the flour and salt before adding them to the milk, to avoid lumps. The first time round, I added the flour and salt mix to hot milk, only to be rewarded with a lumpy mess. I also found it a little difficult to pipe the icing - it is softer that I would have liked. But the lightness and overall flavor makes up for all of that.

Ermine Icing (adapted from a recipe available at this link)

5 tablespoons/40 grams flour
1 cup/235 milliliters whole milk
1 teaspoon/5 milliliters vanilla extract
 Pinch of salt
1 cup/ 230 grams unsalted butter, softened
1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar

Sift flour and salt. Add to milk and stir until the mixture is smooth. Strain if needed. Over medium heat, whisk the mixture in a small saucepan and heat to a simmer, stirring frequently until it becomes very thick and almost puddinglike.
Remove from heat, whisk in vanilla. Pour into a bowl to allow it to cool completely. Put plastic wrap on the surface to keep a skin from forming.
Use a mixer to cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on medium, add the cooled flour mixture a little bit at a time. Continue to beat until the mixture becomes light and fluffy and resembles whipped cream.