Monday, Dec 25, 2023

Reap what you sow

Christmas is when we must rise above our divides and come together to plant seeds of change

This Christmas, I will strive to become the seed of the mango that will bring a harvest of sweet, tasty indulgence to all I meet.This Christmas, I will strive to become the seed of the mango that will bring a harvest of sweet, tasty indulgence to all I meet. (Credit: Suvir Saran)

“Boye ped babool kaa, aam kahaan se hoye.” These words from Sant Kabir, a much-loved Bhakti (devotion) poet of India, form the edict that has directed the journey of my life. It is the commandment that encourages me to see light in darkness, hope in despair, and opportunity where others might find misfortune. This saying is an injunction against everything that would rob us of the ability to live and grow and sow seeds of change for our benefit and others we share the planet with. Sant Kabir questions how we can anticipate enjoying a harvest of delicious mangoes when what we planted in the field of life are the seeds of the mimosa tree. By making the argument through the deliciously persuasive power of the king of fruit, the golden fleshed mango, Kabir hopes to make us live life by the Golden Rule and appreciate that we reap what we sow. His words are especially true during holidays such as Christmas when we must rise above our divides and come together to plant seeds of change.

My culinary world hero and idol is a former income tax officer and current Times of India food critic for Mumbai, the amazingly brilliant, peerlessly tireless, and indefatigable superwoman, Rashmi Uday Singh. Rashmi is a globetrotter and an incomparably loved and celebrated gourmand. Hers is a reputation built through sheer hard work and the tenacity of thoughtful generosity and boundless magnanimity. Even when horribly ill or frightfully busy, Rashmi finds time to be a friend, guide, mentor and helping stranger to one and all. In between seriously challenging hospital visits, she found time to be in Delhi for a couple of days to meet family and check out a restaurant I had consulted on. For those fleeting 48 hours, she put her sickness on hold and was all — daughter, sister and the most amazing friend. When I asked her what she was made of, she simply said, “The world is an echo chamber”.

Rashmi’s words reminded me of my twenties in Manhattan, where the generosity of one Indian visitor, Bim Bissell, changed and enriched the world I lived in. Bim is well known in India as the woman behind the man behind Fab India, one of the most fabulous and successful home-grown retail stores in Indian history. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a former employee of the Cottage Industries and World Bank, Bim commands a room with her high IQ and her equally high EQ. That her table brings deliciousness from across the world at every mealtime is the icing on the cake, but what draws people hungrily to the Bissell residence is the goodness and graciousness with which the family welcomes friends and strangers alike. At Bim’s parties, connections are made that lead to the opening of doors and the creation of opportunities, the tying of nuptial knots, the repairing of broken ties and friendships, and the seeds of new ones that will bring harvests of delicious fruit in the future. When I asked Bim if she enjoyed playing the role of a peerlessly brilliant and intuitive conductor and choreographer, she simply said, “I host dinners for family, friends, and future friends. The rest is managed by the Uppar Waalah, the puppeteer who manages us all”.


Bim and Rashmi are women of two different generations, both independent and confident, educated and fearless, and circumspect and proper. Yet they are also one with self and the world at large. They are never living someone else’s life; they are living life on their own terms while including all in the journey. Most importantly, they are thriving as they live their lives with effortless ease and nonchalant elan. They have gifted themselves an autochthonously rewarding authenticity that gives them the most elusive gift of soul-enriching fulfilment and heartfelt completion with self.

This Christmas season, I am hoping we see the star that came into the sky when Jesus was born and then find that star’s reflection of the star that resides in each of us. When we value ourselves and our self-worth as we do the divine, we see in ourselves and others extensions of the divinity that we come from and that are all connected to. As those around us celebrate Jesus, let us also learn to celebrate ourselves and others. This Christmas, I will strive to become the seed of the mango that will bring a harvest of sweet, tasty indulgence to all I meet. I wish to serve others by being the sight of the blind, the help of the helpless, the strength of the oppressed, the hope of the forgotten, and the voice of the marginalised. By doing these things that are truly fulfilling to me and that feed my soul, I hope to spread the cheer of the inclusive and loving spirit of Christmas and true religion.

Festive offer

Dark Toffee-Chocolate-Nut Bark

Makes one 11-by-17-inch/28-by-43-cm pan

I feel confident saying that this is the best toffee-nut brittle you will ever eat. Of course, it depends on using high-quality chocolate that’s more semisweet than bittersweet, and good salted butter—my favourite for both items is Amul. A beautiful antique tin lined with parchment/baking paper or wax/greaseproof paper and packed with homemade brittle makes a wonderful holiday gift. You can even freeze it and break it out for an easy afternoon sweet alongside a cup of steaming Chai If you’re into sweet-salty confections, you’ll love this with roasted and salted peanuts/groundnuts instead of plain toasted nuts.


For the chocolate

11 oz/310 g chocolate (60 to 72 per cent cacao), finely chopped

1/4 tsp ground cardamom

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground mace

1/8 tsp ground allspice

Scant 1/8 tsp ground cloves

Scant 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, optional

For the brittle

2 lbs/910 g good-quality salted butter, cut into tablespoon-size chunks, plus 1 tbsp at room temperature

4 1/2 cups/615 g chopped and toasted nuts (I like a combination of peanuts/groundnuts and slivered almonds)

1/4 tsp ground cardamom

1/4 tsp ground ginger

3 cups/600 g sugar

1/3 cup/80 ml water

2 tbsp light corn syrup/golden syrup

1 tsp fresh lemon juice


For the chocolate, place the chopped chocolate, cardamom, ginger, mace, allspice, cloves, and cayenne pepper (if using) in a medium bowl. Bring 2 inches/5 cm of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to low, place the bowl with the chocolate and spices over the hot water, and let it sit there, stirring every 1 to 2 minutes until the chocolate is melted, 4 to 6 minutes.

For the brittle, lightly grease the bottom and sides of an 11-by-17-inch/28-by-43-cm rimmed baking sheet/tray with 1 tbsp room-temperature butter. Fit the baking sheet/tray with a piece of parchment/baking paper, press it down to grease the underside, and then turn the parchment/baking paper over so that the buttered side is up.

Place 3 cups/420 g of the toasted nuts, cardamom, and ginger in a large bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.

Melt the remaining 2 lbs/910 g butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the sugar, water, corn syrup/golden syrup, and lemon juice, and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally to ensure that the sugar is completely melted. Once the mixture comes to a boil, stop stirring. Use a pastry brush and dab the sides of the pot with water if you see sugar crystallizing. Continue to cook the caramel until it reads 300˚F/150°C on an instant-read thermometer, 25 to 30 minutes, swirling the pan occasionally to ensure that the caramel cooks evenly. (If the caramel starts to bubble and rise to the lip of the saucepan, reduce the heat.) Turn off the heat, stir in the spiced nuts (be careful not to spatter the piping-hot sugar) and immediately pour the mixture onto the greased baking sheet/tray. Set the pan aside for 4 minutes and then pour the melted chocolate over the brittle, using an offset spatula to spread the chocolate in an even layer. Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups/210 g nuts over the chocolate and set aside to cool completely, either overnight at room temperature or covered with plastic wrap/cling film and in the refrigerator, for at least 3 hours.

Break the brittle into irregular pieces and serve on a platter or store them in an airtight container or a gallon-size/3.8-L freezer bag for up to 3 months.

First published on: 23-12-2023 at 10:20 IST
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