a.k.a. Torta di Nada, and Graduation Cake :)
Graduating form school is bittersweet. Over the past few months I couldn't wait for school to end, counting down until there were no more labs, internal assessments, exams, essays or art pieces to do, no more endless to-do lists and sleepless nights. During the last week or two of school I felt sad, nostalgic, paying extra attention to all my old classrooms, noting the things I love about my friends and teachers, marvelling at how it could have all gone by so quickly. But even when classes ended, we still had a few weeks of study leave and final exams, by which point I had gone back to being fed up. I even had a countdown on my laptop which I checked almost obsessively, waiting until the moment my last exam ended. That moment is something I can't quite describe... I ran out of the exam hall and squealed and hugged my friend; my friends and I were beaming as we talked to the teachers we ran into, reminiscing and chatting; I called my mum and shouted "guess who's free?", not fully able to grasp it myself. I had a day that was so spontaneous and leisurely it was surreal: a long lunch with my friends, playing games and listening to music with my boyfriend, and a lovely evening with my mum spent talking, finishing a puzzle, eating pizza, watching a movie, and flipping through pointless magazines.
So I think perhaps this exact moment of graduation is more of a closure. The sadness and the elation are over, and this evening was just a lovely way for all the students, teachers and parents to meet one more time.
My family and I went to a new café in Kala Ghoda called The Nutcracker for breakfast that morning (and got caught up in a film shooting at the same time... that's Bombay for you). It's a cute little place that could be lifted out of Paris, and although the service wasn't brilliant, the food was delicious. After a practically customary stop at Rhythm House, we came home to this 'graduation cake' that my mum and I had made. Really, it was my mum who made it and I was a happy sous-chef. It's from Jamie Oliver's book Jamie's Italy, and he calls it Torta di Nada after the woman who makes it at a bed and breakfast. It's light, zesty, fresh, and rather addictive. I kept cutting slivers of it all day for a week, and occasionally treated myself to a nice big slab.
Whether you're graduating or not, I think you need to celebrate summer with this cake ;)
Some places are so overwhelming, such an assault on the senses, that you can't get your head around them – I'd say India is probably one of those places.
But perhaps what made it so difficult to get my head around Japan is it's complete calmness, lack of imposition, of sensory bombardment. From Starbucks on every corner in Kyoto and Tokyo, to minuscule vegetarian restaurants up spiral stairwells; from the Shinkansen that zooms past like a sinister snake, to the giant watercolour mountains looming over the rice fields.. there's so much to say about our trip, but that would go on for pages and pages, so I've had to reluctantly do what I'm worst at: editing.
We spent the first day in Narita, a small town outside of Tokyo, that was simply overflowing with charm. Tiny bakeries, rows of traditional shops selling everything from crackers to meat to household supplies. The little streets wind around each other, schoolchildren bustle about, and there's not a sound from the cars or the pedestrians.
Although this sign outside a cafe amusingly says 'bleakfast', our breakfast on the first day was far from bleak. We were staying at an old guesthouse that was about as traditional as you could get. The elderly couple who ran it were extremely warm and had Samurai ancestry. The house was filled with ancient artefacts, beautiful sliding doors, and priceless tatami mats. Countless celebrities and dignitaries have visited their guesthouse, but they remained incredibly as down to earth and prepared a traditional Japanese breakfast for us. The flavours and textures take a lot of getting used to, and I can't say I managed to have all the pickled peas, the fish cakes or the sashimi. But the presentation and nutritional balance put people's grab-and-go breakfasts to shame, and the tofu miso soup was heavenly.
The town of Hakone was by a hot spring and was in itself a sleepy little place. We had some enormous, soul-warming bowls of vegetable and noodle soup, and delicious dumplings (after much sign language and attempts at communication) at a small Japanese diner/restaurant on a drizzly day. With a living room filled with instruments, games and books in different languages left by various travellers, and the steaming hot spring baths, Hakone was rather relaxing. Ironically, we went on an exhausting trek up Mount Kintoki the day we were leaving. We didn't anticipate its length or difficulty, and we trudged up while seasoned trekkers (even little kids and bonding dogs) zipped past us in their trekking gear. But when we reached the top, with Mount Fuji peeking out from the clouds in the distance and the hills rolling out around us, we knew it was worth it. We were perhaps the only non-Japanese people up there, and the owners of the small shack struggled a bit to figure out what we were ordering. The woman came running out with a book, asking us to write where we were from, and the man made us a hot pot of green tea, which was just perfectly refreshing and soothing. Other trekkers were so curious to find out how we liked Japan and apparently we were really lucky to see Mount Fuji that day too. Even atop a mountain, you can be surrounded by warmth.
K's House in the seaside town of Ito – again by a hot spring – is an absolute treasure. The convivial atmosphere, the sprawling living rooms, the sunshine streaming in, the view of the river, not to mention the ancient classic architecture and woodwork by some of Japan's master carvers. Everyone there made you feel like part of the family, from helping in the kitchen, to sitting at 5 am with tea and cereal and watching Holland play in the Fifa World Cup. We had the most relaxing, beautiful mornings with all kinds of breakfast foods from the local supermarkets and fresh breads and cakes from a lovely bakery we found.
Interestingly, in Japan I had some of the best Italian food I have ever had. The pizzas had light, fluffy dough, the cheese was rich and real (not gooey and processed), and the pastas were always laden with fresh vegetables – not just the usual ones, but crunchy beans, sautéed aubergine, cabbage, yellow zucchini – and the sauce was just pure fresh tomatoes.
The Japanese are, of course, known for the importance they give to tea, and this tea set at a mother-daughter-run restaurant simply had to be photographed.
Kyoto blew us away with its old streets and buildings mingled with its glitzy main roads, and we all feel we simply have to go back, because there's just too much to explore. Tucked away in one of the backstreets is a typical Japanese restaurant called Kura Kura. Our guesthouse manager said it's a true local restaurant, not usually frequented by tourists, but one of his all-time favourites. We spent one of the loveliest evenings there, laughing and talking to the chef about his life, Japan, travelling, and the local culture. From couples to business meetings, people sat around on the tatami mats (rather surprised when we walked in) in the dimly lit room. The chef prepared a special menu for us, thrilled to be taking on my sister, the tough customer, and it was divine. A richly complex yet light salad dressing had my sister eating bowlfuls of lettuce; the tempura was hot and addictive; the noodles were handmade, slippery and wholesome; the tofu soup was delicate and nourishing; it was a delight to watch dishes like the rolled omelette being made as we talked, ate and my parents sipped hot sake.
An evening of being completely pulled into a city, of having a local chef and restaurant open up to you and show their pride in showcasing their culture simply can't be beaten. The warmth and happiness we felt on our last night seemed to sum up everything we had felt in Japan. It's such a distant place, both literally and figuratively, and the language and cultural barriers – so much is completely new, unknown, surprising – can make you feel a little lost at times. But somehow the ebb and flow of the cities, the sleepy strolling in the small towns, the peacefully grand temples, the buzzing restaurants, even the traffic guards on the street, all made us feel wrapped up and absorbed into the country for those fleeting two weeks. I haven't even come close to doing it justice – you'll just have to go there yourself ;)
Out of h-IB-ernation...
Hellooooooo life, how nice to see you again!
I am officially done with school and the IB, and I have had 4 days of blissful freedom. I've been telling myself for ages that summer is going to be for doing absolutely nothing, but so far I've found myself perpetually occupied with something... I suppose I can't really be idle for too long, because there's just always something I want to do or read or make. I don't mind being busy, as long as it's the fun kind of busy.
I checked my last blog post and it was from last summer *hiding*...
BUT I'm making up for it, because I have a big backlog of beautiful posts coming, including cooking, travel, and lots of little foodie bits-and-bobs from the past year.
To start with I'm posting something I wrote in February but for which I never got the chance to edit the photos: a delicious multigrain bread, along with a bit of an update on what the past few months have really been like:
Chocolate Tulip is back!
Well, I was never really gone, to be honest. I've been dreaming about cooking, missing my blog, and doing whatever bits of cooking I have managed here and there. As my friends who wait weeks for email replies will testify, this school year has rendered me particularly disconnected from the things I love doing.
I'm sure I speak for all final year students (and certainly all IB students) when I say that these months just drain you like nothing else.
But last Friday the hardest of my mock exams were over, and after the jam-packed weeks of university applications, submissions, school events and supposedly squeezing in mock exam revision, I took a break. It truly felt like summer holidays: I helped make lunch, I made my new music playlist, I bought gorgeous orange nail polish and painted my nails, I worked on this giant puzzle with my mum, I talked to my friends and my boyfriend, and I baked this enormous loaf of bread.
Those of you who have read Chocolate Tulip before might know that my experiments with yeasted bread have not been entirely successful... While our homemade pizza dough can fluff up like a pillow, we've had trouble with other dough mixtures rising, or being too wet.
This recipe particularly caught my eye, because it used no yeast. It came quite simply on the packet of Bob's Red Mill 10-grain flour, and turned out to be lovely.
It's slightly heavy, erring on the cake side in terms of texture, because of the eggs and yoghurt. With a light lemon glaze it could actually make a really nice healthy cake. That said, that makes the bread extremely satisfying – I can easily have a slice of this for breakfast, which I am never able to do with normal bread. Combined with richness of the flours and the touch of sugar and olive oil, the bread tastes amazing just on its own, plain or toasted.
My mum and I enjoyed a quiet afternoon with warm slices of fresh bread and our usual Friday popcorn <3
Despite the chaos, in between everything there are little moments that perk you up: sleepovers, family dinners, movies (if you did not see The Imitation Game, go see it now), fun breakfasts, concerts (Ed Sheeran. Tonight. :O), running, yoga or just a few minutes you take to relax with some alone time or with the people you love.
And as a major plus, I am rather suddenly feeling very productive (*gasp*), so there should hopefully be a lot more posts coming :)
In any case, I have 4 months (yup) of blissful cooking-laden summer holidays coming up... holding on.