If I find myself at a cafe in the afternoon (usually for a meeting), I try to avoid coffee, since the caffeine interferes with my sleep. Instead, I’ll often order a chai latte. At a cafe, that usually means an instant beverage—spice powder or syrup mixed into steamed milk.
I enjoy the occasional chai latte. But it bears little resemblance to the real thing.
I was introduced to chai by a friend who grew up in India. He taught me how to make chai by steeping black tea and whole spies i simmering milk. The process is definitely not instant, and it requires a close eye to prevent the milk from burning.
That ‘slow’ chai, made on a winter evening in a kitchen full of friends was always more than a drink. It was a gift—of time, knowledge, memories, and love. No instant chai will ever be able to deliver the same.
I seldom make chai at home, but a few weeks ago on a cold dreary afternoon, I felt the need for more than a cup of tea. I made myself a chai instead, and enjoyed a drink that not only satisfied my desire for a cuppa, but also wrapped me in friendship and warm memories.
I invited a friend over for dinner last week, and she mentioned her birthday was the day before our dinner date.
Oh shit! I forgot! was my first reaction. But before I could kick myself for once again forgetting a friend’s birthday, I thought I’ll make her a cake!
I immediately started scheming—trying to pair flavours I thought she’d like with what I could realistically create in the middle of winter (no fresh berries!).
Pretty soon I found myself surrounded by cookbooks, making a grocery list, and wondering if I could roll an oil cake like a jelly roll (the answer, by the way, is no … that’s another story …).
I snapped a photo and sent it to her, laughing at my geeky cake-baking nature.
A while later she texted back, saying how touched she was by the photo.
My first reaction was It’s just a cake.
But then it dawned on me—it wasn’t just a cake. Cake is my love language. I may completely forget your birthday and your anniversary, I will never be able to say the right thing when a loved one dies or you tell me you’re pregnant, and I will laugh at your memes on social media but not even click ‘like’. But if I like you and you give me even half an excuse, I’ll make a cake for you—all the ‘likes’, right words, and birthday wishes baked right in.
It’s no wonder I get giddy when my kids’ and husband’s birthdays come around. It’s no wonder I plan a month ahead and go over the top on their birthday cakes. I think nothing of making a fancy cake when one of the kids comes home for the weekend. And those ‘ordinary’ cakes? Well, of course I make them nearly every week.
So please don’t be offended if I seem to ignore your Facebook posts. Don’t think I don’t care if I forget to ask about your kids. Forgive me if I forget important dates. Just … have some cake.
Smells have amazing powers. They can conjure spirits.
I was chopping parsley and mint the other day to put in dinner and, as the combined smell wafted from the cutting board, I though of Rhian Jones.
I shared a house with Rhian and five other women during my last year at university. Yellow House, as we called the brightly painted Edwardian edifice, was a good place to live. Though all seven of us had different majors and different personalities, we shared a desire to make the place feel like home.
We all enjoyed cooking, and regularly shared food. Rhian made tabbouleh that sang with flavour. “Granny’s” tabbouleh, because the recipe came from her grandmother. I still have that recipe.
I haven’t thought about Rhian for years, but the mix of herbs under my knife the other day drew her into my kitchen. I heard her infectious snorting laughter, remembered her vast collection of colourful bras, and tasted her granny’s tabbouleh shared among us on hot summer days.
I don’t know what became of any of my housemates from that year, but it was lovely to have Rhian laughing in my kitchen thirty years later. I hope wherever she is, she’s still making tabbouleh.