KASHMIRI BARKAKATI NATH writes about her love affair with baking and cooking
I am often asked ‘’ how did you get into baking?” It was an accident. The pictures in my mother’s cook books enticed me no end, they almost sprang into life, wafting my senses with their aroma and assaulting my taste buds. I had to bake! My mother says I started to cook even before I could reach the cook top! As a teenager, I baked a cake for my brother’s fifth birthday, a very ambitious project of 5 tiered cake. It wasn’t great looking but my little brother was happy and that made my world brighter and shinier. I now bake wedding cakes with elaborate handmade sugar roses. It symbolizes my personal evolution. I bake to beat my blues, I bake to celebrate, I bake when it rains or when the sun shines bright. I have a cake for every occasion. Each cake marks a joyous occasion. I consider myself blessed to be able to do what I love, professionally and every order for a box of cupcakes or cake is to herald a joyful occasion.
Life as baker is full of joys and remaining cool in the heat of the kitchen when the cream curdles. I have learnt everything from my mistakes. When you marry straight out of college and life takes you to a faraway tea plantation, you learn to bake and cook and take pride in that. The thickest file on my shelf is labelled “cakes and pies”. You prided yourself because you bake fresh bread in the kitchen and did not buy commercial! I could serve a hundred members at the club with chicken quiche and still not look flustered or have a hair out of place! I cooked one meal for the kids and a separate for my husband! I sometimes, wish I could serve 2 minute noodles and do away with proper meals and stop being the super woman but I never regretted our meals, the tradition of eating together, eating fresh cooked meals. When my son turned a teenager, his pet peeve was ’’ all my friends has dinner while watching TV, why can’t I?” “we can talk while we eat, that’s why”.
I would reply. I still never serve meal in front of the television, ever.
I am a home baker now, a concept new to this city (Guwahati) but people are waking up to the idea of eating good cakes and baked goods and remembering their childhood days. Cakes that are devoid of the commercial taste, cakes baked with love. Each cake has a story, I ‘m privy to so many romantic stories, people want to express though the cakes. Have almost written love letters on Cakes! There is a sense of trust, an unspoken level of comfort. I have shy teenager requesting cakes for their first love. Children who will come with limited pocket money and want a surprise cake for their mom or Dad. For as long as I remember my food is inextricably entwined with my life. At times, when the world sleeps I am up sitting up and hand rolling sugar roses, for the cake has to go out in the morning. Its two years and I do not recall even one occasion when I have had to keep my client waiting. I hate to turn down a request so often I find myself racing against time. Yet, there are clients who place an order well in advance and discuss all the details though it’s few and far between. Almost all clients will call and give me a feedback and send a thank you message. It makes up for all the aching bones, frozen shoulders and sleepless nights. My family members still don’t understand how I can be on my feet for straight seven hours and when the cake turns out, as I desired, my aches just disappear! They don’t understand but they no longer say “it’s only a cake and it will be cut up no matter how pretty you make it”. The cake gets it moments of glory however brief and that is enough for me. I hate being present when the cake is being cut and sometimes so roughly. I now ask customers, do they need the cake to eat or just as a prop? No, I don’t do a shoddy finish but I try not to get emotional about it. Every cake is special. I now share my recipes through workshops and watch with pride when I see youngsters perfect the art. For cooking and baking is an expression of who you are!
And, I have never regretted picking the pots and pans and ladling love.