Years ago my father and I sat down at an Indian restaurant in London. I was not new to Indian cuisine, as I had basically grew up on samosas, learned to obsess over naan bread and swoon over the smokey smells of toasting spices. I ordered what I always ordered- chicken tikka and piles of pillowy naan. My dinner came on a sizzling platter, chicken a fiery redish orange on a bed of onions and peppers, but my 9 year old self had a problem- there was no ketchup. I had a bit of an addiction as a kid to ketchup (perhaps still do…), putting it nearly on everything, and even receiving ketchup as birthday gifts.
Minor problem: there was no ketchup on the table.
I, a nine year old ketchup addict, begin to worry. My father asks the waiter if they have any ketchup, in which the waiter seems puzzled. My father repeats the question, this time replacing the word ‘ketchup’ with ‘tomato sauce’. This seems to spark some sort of understanding, in which the waiter tells another employee to get a bottle of ketchup.
The employee walks out the front door, only to be seen 10 minutes later with a grocery bag and one lone bottle of ketchup. Such dedication to customer service.
Thousands of memories surround my trips to England. When I was much younger my brother and I went around and collected eggs from the hens, but unlike my brother I was much too afraid to go into their little coups in fear that they’d peck me to death. My father would bustle us around the city, catching cabs, the tube, and trains. We’d walk everywhere, to the point where I remember quite clearly the walk to the train into London from my grandmother’s apartment- the open air store with fruit and vegetables piled high in baskets, the blue and green overpass that housed pigeons that cooed and watched you from above. There was a sharp right turn, a barber shop, and a steep incline to reach the trains. I went from hunting the markets for beanie babies to searching out the latest fashion trends as I got older. Too many times have I nearly seen my dad get hit by a car because of his thrill seeking need to j-walk. The more I went to England the more I loved being a tourist, taking pictures of Big Ben, secretly hoping every visit that my Dad would walk us past the horse fountain by Piccadilly Circus, going to Hamleys, eating at pubs. For my 16th birthday I accompanied my Dad in visiting my grandmother and went to Paris for the weekend, where I had the most amazing dinner in a tiny restaurant dimly lit. As we packed our car and left for the airport, my grandmother poked her head out from behind her window curtain and waved to us as we drove off. I snapped a picture. That was the last time I was in Europe.
My grandmother wasn’t your ordinary, cookie-cutter grandmother. She wasn’t much of a hugger, and kept to herself often, trusting few. The cliche that your grandmother’s cooking is always the best didn’t apply here, I remember dreading eating at my grandmother’s apartment, as we often had cold cuts of ham and cucumbers, perhaps potatoes, for dinner. Sometimes she would accidentally call my brother and I the names of our cousins, and I wouldn’t be surprised if my grandmother had a harder time with our american accents than she let on.
However, like me, my grandmother shared a love for chocolate. She would always bring up the weather in conversations with me, but seemed to catch onto my passion for animals and would tell me about the dogs she had seen, or the cats that played in the courtyard. She cared deeply and selflessly about our well being and always tried to make us feel at home.
A few weeks into school my father came to visit me, as I had been having a hard time adjusting back into college. We were eating ice cream at an old fashioned parlor when my mother called, and I excitedly answered the phone. However my mother’s voice was solemn, as she told me my grandmother had passed away and instructed me to put my father on the phone. Shock poured through me, followed by overwhelming guilt- I hadn’t talked to my grandmother in over a year. I let college become one of my many excuses of why I was too busy to call, and I will always regret this.
Wherever we end up when we pass, I like to think that she’s watching us, even seeing America for the first time. I hope my grandmother knows that I truly cherished every moment I was blessed to spend with her. Most of all, I hope she forgives me.
I made this carrot cake for my father’s birthday, a few days before he had to leave for my grandmother’s funeral. Instead of putting ginger in the cake, I decided to use cardamom, an aromatic Middle Eastern spice commonly found in Indian cuisine. A little goes a long way- the cardamom makes this cake truly special, it acts as the secret ingredient that will keep people guessing, and grabbing for another slice. This recipe has seriously converted me into a carrot cake lover. It was moist, had great texture, and the maple frosting really rounded it off. Hands down this recipe has earned a spot into my box of to-make-again recipes.
Cardamom Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from RasaMalaysia
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 cup granulated/castor sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup canola oil
8-ounces plain applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
3 cups/650 grams grated peeled carrots (from about 5-6 large carrots)
1 cups pecans (or any nut/optional)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C/
For cupcakes: Line 24 cupcake molds (2 12-standard muffin tins) with liners, or butter and flour them.
For layered cakes: Butter two 9-inch-diameter or three 8-inch-diameter cake pans. Line bottom of pans with parchment, butter and flour paper; tap out excess flour.
Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom in medium bowl to blend. Set aside.
In a separate large bowl, whisk sugars, applesauce and oil until well blended. Whisk in eggs, one at a time. Add in the flour mixture and stir until blended. Stir in the vanilla and carrots. Add in the pecans (or other nut) and raisins, if using them.
For cupcakes: Divide batter among cupcake molds, filling 3/4 of each. Bake cupcakes 14 to 18 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of one comes out clean. Let cool in pans for about 5 minutes. Transfer cakes to a cooling rack. Let cool completely before icing them.
For layered cakes: Divide the batter equally between the prepared pans, and bake the layers for about 30 minutes each for 8-inch cakes or about 40 minutes each for 9-inch cakes; or until a tester inserted into center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans for about 15 minutes. Turn out onto cooling racks. Peel off parchment; cool cakes completely before icing.
Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Yields about 2 cups, sufficient for any of the combination of this cake recipe
2 (8-ounce/226-gram) packages cream cheese, softened at room temperature
1 stick/4 ounces/113 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups/230 grams confectioners’/icing sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat all the ingredients on medium speed until fluffy. Chill the frosting for about 20 to 30 minutes or until it has set up enough to spread smoothly and hold its shape.
For cupcakes: Place the maple cream cheese frosting into a piping bag fitted with your tip of choice and pipe onto cooled cupcakes accordingly.
For layered cakes: To assemble a layered cake, with an offset spatula, frost the top of one cake and place the other cake on top. Repeat for a three-layered cake. Frost the sides and top with a thin layer of frosting, chill the cake for about 30-45 minutes. Frost the cake completely to cover. Chill cake for at least 30 minutes or till frosting is set. Bring to room temperature before serving.