"Happiness is no crumbs on the plate"
Every few months, since the summer of 2012, I think about stopping posting on Chocolate Tulip. It's not as if what I make is anything extraordinary; there are plenty of students who are cooking things that are much better than what I do. Sometimes someone writes to me and asks when I'll be posting next, and little things like that encourage me again. But this time I tried to think about why I started it in the first place, regardless of whether anyone reads it at all.
Chocolate Tulip began as I started rediscovering and re-allowing all the things I used to love to make and eat. Although on a different scale, this term I resolved once again to actively change my relationship with food, which has been problematic to say the least. When I say I love food I don't mean "I eat a cheeseburger and a tub of ice cream every day." I mean I love reading about it, writing about it, buying ingredients, chopping, cooking for hours or whipping up a snack, learning about the history and culture behind an ingredient or a dish, cooking alone or with people I love, going out to try someplace new, savouring something myself or making people happy with what I make, and sometimes I love the failures, too.
At the same time, paradoxically, it sometimes seems like I hate food. I can spend days fighting the urge to have a snack; ages walking the supermarket aisles again and again, comparing each nutritional fact between one packet and another, before moving on to comparing the next item; hours counting and recounting and recounting the calories in everything I ate and berating myself for my choices or my needs.
And somewhere over the past two months I realised that I couldn't do it anymore. It was probably a cumulative decision, but at some point in one of my mindfulness classes, when I felt the stress and pain of these thoughts hurting me more than I knew they reasonably should, I decided to take it into my own hands. Because by hating food or pushing it away, I was pushing away so much of what makes me who I am. I was taking away the thrill of picking up something new to try at the shops, the calm of a quiet meal alone or the laughter of dinner with my friends in the corridor, the little moment of something sweet with a cup of coffee, the ease of baking and cooking with my family at home, the joy of the street food I miss so much, the carefree moments at the end of the day when we collapse with biscuits and tea, the satisfaction of making something I want to make and feeling proud of myself no matter how much time I'm taking to write an essay or how everything else seems to be going.
One night after a long, long day of meetings and rushed meals, an empty fridge and failed plans, and the added bonus of Sainsbury's on a Saturday night, I plugged in my headphones and had the kitchen to myself for a few hours. I listened to Yotam Ottolenghi's Desert Island Discs, where he talked about the joy of accomplishing something when you finish whipping egg whites, compared to the endlessness he felt throughout his time in academia (sounds familiar?). He loves learning and experimenting and the instant gratification of sharing the activity and the food with someone else. In that moment, alone with Radio 4, fun ingredients, and dedicated creative time, the best way to describe how I felt was 'whole' – far from what I would have expected two hours earlier.
Given that, for better or for worse, so much of my life revolves around food, Chocolate Tulip is often a way to look back at the end of term on everything that's happened. The days I felt adventurous and went to get special ingredients, the days when I felt low and – much to the concern/shock of my friends – just boiled plain pasta, the days I restricted what I ate, the days I let go of that and enjoyed a floor ice cream party or freshly fried chips at night after dancing for hours, the days when meeting my friend for breakfast was a pick-me-up in my week and the days when porridge while talking to my family was just the comfort I needed.
My mum read me a quote from a book called The Sellout the other day, in which a character is asked where all his ideas come from, to which he replies:
It's not about where ideas come from, but where they go.
There are far too many ideas and projects and plans that get dreamt up and then disappear, left by the wayside, whether because one loses faith in oneself, or one loses steam, or the hard truth of real life gets in the way. I've had and will have my fair share of abandoned ideas, but right now this little pocket of internet space and the dream of my cafe bubbling away are two things I'm not willing to let go of just yet.
Roti from home, roasted red pepper hummus, baby spinach, 'sun soaked' tomatoes, sharp cheddar, and spice marinated quorn: a messy but lovely lunch.
Homemade kale chips, feat. an essay doodled on by my super cool history supervisor.
Maybe one of my favourites this term: butternut squash and turnips roasted in the oven with garlic, onion, olive oil, za'atar and fresh salt and pepper. Warmed and crisped up on the pan with some feta <3
My packed lunch began with the best of intentions: fruit, almonds, walnuts, a boiled egg and some beans and vegetable stew...
... but then I reached the Education Faculty and spotted a newbie amongst the pastries: a fridge cake with literally everything in it – blueberry muffin, banana, twix, chocolate cake, marshmallows, and probably more – all in one scrumptious slab.
My lovely pen-pal came to visit from Belgium, so we had to have fish and chips. Not for the faint of heart.
Of course, we continued the crash course in Englishness and had scones at Bill's the next morning before lectures – the best I've tasted, and 100% going on the cafe menu.
Indian egg curry, delicious with French red rice.
Frozen peas are a new favourite snack, either cold or warmed with ras-el-hanout, za'atar, or parmesan. I buy a bag and defrost them in the fridge – an accidental discovery, because we don't have a freezer...
Dinner date with moi. Ditalini, chickpea and pea soup, adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe for pasta e ceci. Featuring a rose I was given by some beauty people outside King's College – romantic amiright? – and my little cafe ideas notebook in the back.
Veggie meatballs, red rice, and kale
Baked oatmeal – part of my Ottolenghi evening wind-down. Not super happy with the layering the recipe called for; the bananas remained in a bit of a separated/gooey layer on the bottom, so I'll retry it with mashing them in to the oat mixture instead. But it saved me on some rushed essay mornings, and it's looks pretty.
In the library with my friend Chloe:
6:30 onwards: I'm hungry.
7:30 "Hey Chloe, I'm going to go get some chocolate, do you want anything?"
Chloe: "We're planning floor tea and biscuits at 10, we can hold out till then!"
Me: "Aaaaah! Okay, good plan!"
9:15 Chloe and I decide to go back to our rooms to work.
9:30 Chloe: "I need to go buy biscuits for tea and biscuits."
Me: "Hmmm I don't have any either!"
The trip turns into a semi-grocery run to top up stuff for the week. I tell Chloe about the veggie burger section.
9:45 Chloe: "Ooh these would make great burgers"
Me: "We can get nice buns from the bakery section! Wow I could really do with a burger right now..."
10:00 Chloe: "Sooo are you going to join me for a burger?"
10:20 Chloe and I are whipping up hot burgers with melty cheese as our post-studying, pre-biscuits snack :)
My standing desk contraption also gives me a whopping amount of floor space to sprawl and work. Win-win.
Oatmeal-banana pancakes with jam, leftover cream and honey. Yaas.
Perhaps one of the most serendipitous food photos I've taken.
Shakshukha, made with the same chickpea and black-eyed pea stew pictured above – hearty, warm, super flavourful, and delicious topped with feta and fresh parsley.
You know you've found an amazing friend when she joins you in this dreamy brunch <3
In the last week of term as you wind down supplies start to run low, and most people are somewhat fed up of all the quick/budget/healthy things they've been making. I switched up breakfast for toasted Irish soda bread with ricotta and strawberries/butter/butter and honey.
A salad made with my end-of-term leftover ingredients, and which turned out to be one of my favourites: strawberries, arugula, ricotta, walnuts, a ryvita, and a honey-olive oil-balsamic dressing.
Review: Thela, Cambridge
During term time I can make dal or get a curry, but something I cannot get my hands on is chaat – what is an easy thing to buy or put together at home requires too many ingredients for me to seek out here, and so far no restaurant has served it either. But for the past few weeks bright photos of chaat and other dishes have flitted across my newsfeed, with a tantalising 'coming to Cambridge soon...' caption.
After much hype, a friend from Bombay and I went to try out Thela, a new place in Cambridge that claims to serve authentic Indian street food. Of course, I had my favourite dahi batata puri (for reference, see this post!):
The place smelled faintly like a typical local Indian restaurant, for those who know what I mean, which was nice insofar as it was familiar. And water in tall Coca Cola glasses. Of course.
As we left I spotted the saunf on the counter and dashed back to get some, but it wasn't as good as my packet from Crawford Market, complete with plain fennel, tiny little mystery seeds, shiny silver bits, and rose petals, which I finished weeks ago:p
Overall: I remember two Bombay friends at Cambridge who were a couple of years above me saying that the lowest ranking Indian food at home is about what you'll get in Cambridge. Our Indian food last year at an Indian restaurant was not bad (though a bit heavy and oily), and the India Society has gotten delicious Indian food for a lot of their events, but I think with this chaat I see what my friends meant. The thing is, they got the difficult bits right (the puris, the chutneys), it was just the energy that was missing. You don't hold back when you're making chaat: fistfuls of coriander and toppings; all the sweet/spicy/crunchy/sour/salty combinations you can manage; lots of fresh spices (not necessarily spicy); you throw the tomatoes and freshness into the chaat, instead of leaving a sad and vague salad on the side that nobody wants because it's not chaat and it serves no purpose; and you do. not. serve it with a fork, you serve it with an appropriate shovel so that each bite has an adequate amount of all the little flavours and bits and bobs in one go.
But the place was busy, the waiter seemed relatively on it, and a person sat near us told the waiter he really enjoyed the food. The menu has a few thalis and some other interesting dishes so maybe I'll give them another try next time Week 5/6 homesickness gets to me.
At least someone is making chaat outside of India, and if I could handle the weather/place for longer it'd be my mission to make sure (good, real, Mohan/Gupta-street style) chaat overtakes Sainsbury's 'poppadoms' and naan and 'balti' as the UK's go-to Indian food 👩🏾🍳🇮🇳