My dad has 9 brothers and sisters, designed and cast in the city of Hyderabad, India. On average, they each have had 2.89 of the individuals that claim to be my first cousins. 57.70% of this generation has manufactured grandchildren, precisely 1.87 per reproducing cousin…and still productively counting. When we have a guest over for big family dinners, we relish torturing the poor soul to regurgitate every name mentioned during the round of introductions that evening. On the rare occasion of a family event, say a wedding, servers in restaurants tremble in fear at the sheer size and complexity of our orders. And wedding photographers are still working on a new technology that will zap our entire crew into place – stay still, don’t blink, say cheese!…yes, all sixty-whatever of you! – for a simple family photograph. We take immense pride in how we run our highly efficient and fertile family factory.
The chief architect behind this whole operation was my late grandmother. She was the factory chief-in-charge. And in our hearts, we know she still is. Probably nothing I can write or say or photograph will ever be enough to capture the essence of a lady that has been as admired and respected and loved in our family as she has. Until that elusive day when I can find the right words, I’ll stay respectfully silent.
Another lady, a close friend and confidante of my grandmother, was the nun who took many of my first cousins, including myself, off the production line and smacked us into the real world: Sister Theresa. The lady who has been there for many a birth in the family. Who has extended her healing hand for sick adults and children alike, across three generations of our family. Who resolutely scaled an entire staircase this fall despite failing knees, just so she could hug my cousin before her wedding vows. Who, till this day, no matter if her legs cooperate or not, will painstakingly make her legendary fruit cakes and send us two for our suitcases back to Dubai. That’s motherly love for you, in all its baked goodness.When I asked mom how the family got introduced to Sister Theresa, all she had for me was, “Sister got transferred into a post at the local hospital. We met her there. And then she just became part of our lives. I don’t know, but she just did.” And that’s just how it is – Sister is family for us as far as we can remember.
When I met Sister this fall at my cousin’s wedding in Hyderabad, I mentioned to her just how crazy I was about her cakes. The shocking discovery was that she didn’t steep them in rum – I was almost positive that the bittersweet undertones that ran deep through the moist fruity cake were rum-induced. ‘No, no rum. I keep the grapes in a room for a long time…Then you have to pull the stem out of the grapes carefully after a few days. And then I add the masalas that my sister specially sends for me.’ I was hungry for the details, but I could only badger with so many questions on the two minute forty-five second walk between the entryway and the car that was ready to take her back home. So the rest of the recipe was left up to my imagination…and thankfully, I am gifted with a very vivid one when it comes to food. A roomful of warm fruit cakes fresh out the oven, all stacked across in a row, studded with plump fermented grapes and crunchy cashews, and with me ploughing through them like the cookie monster in a Mrs. Field’s factory. Bliss.
On the happy note of a thick slab of Sister Theresa’s cake [I just had a king-sized lunch. But writing about the cake made me want some despite a bloated belly.] – infused with motherly love, fermented grapes, cashews…but mostly, oodles of motherly love, I bid goodbye to 2010, and greedily open my arms up to the awesome eats that await me in 2011.
But most importantly, to all those of you who’ve suffered through my infant posts this year – the family factory, my foodie soulmates and all the new friends I’ve made through this blog, thank you for your support and positive words. Wishing you all a fabulous 2011!