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6/24 books to read in 2016

3 Jan

Reading books is my way of escaping into other worlds and living other lives. It is extraordinary and highly recommended if you haven’t tried it yet. I am quite old-fashioned when it comes to reading and I need to feel the spine of the book in my hand and the wind on my face when I turn a page. Books to me are my loyal companions who I turn to when I am pretty much done with the world around me. I haven’t graduated to e-books yet because I feel it will reduce my love for my faithful companions. I consider buying books as an investment and nothing can stop me from entering a book store, if it happens to be in sight.

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Last year, for  the GoodReads challenge I took up the gargantuan task of completing 60 books in 365 days! Obviously, I failed. I over estimated my capacity to read and the amount of time I had on my hands to complete the challenge. I managed to read 20 good books. Therefore, I do not feel like a failure. Failing, yet not feeling like a failure is success.

Last year which was just 3 days ago, I read enormously delightful books like The Illicit Happiness of other people by Manu Joseph, Bone clocks my David Mitchell, The Signature of all things by Elizabeth Gilbert, The moveable feast by Ernest Hemmingway,  The Secret Garden by Fraces Burnett, After Dark by Murakami, Sophie Kinsella, Maya Angelou and some new authors like Jasmine Warga.  These books were enriching, enjoyable but demanded a lot of time.

I also wasted plenty of time deciding which book to read. Indecisiveness is a time waster. There were many that I took up and didn’t go back to like Ian McEwan’s The Children Act,  JK Rowling’s Casual Vacancy ( I tried several times but it is way too boring) and The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan.

This year, however, I am tad more realistic and decided to do 2 books per month which makes it 24 books in 2o16. I am making a list in advance so that I am more focused. Here we go-

  1. Rosamund Pilcher’s “Shell Seekers”  – I am re-reading this book that I read 9 years back in Cambridge, England. I borrowed it from the local library and I remember not stepping out of my room, the entire weekend. I finished the book the 581 pager book in nearly 2.5 days. I found this book again from a book etailer’s shop and ordered it immediately. I realized I have forgotten some parts of this lovely family saga and this seemed like a perfect excuse to indulge into Ms. Pilcher’s comforting writing.

2. “The Elegance of a Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery

I picked this book on impulse and I started it last year. I enjoyed the bizarre plot based on the life events of a French concierge who is intellectually superior but is forced to conceal it because of the class -conscious society that she lives in. I do not recollect why I dropped the book but I intend to finish it as soon as possible.

3. “Emma” by Jane Austen

I believe to survive the ugliness of the world that we live in, it is important to go back to classics to restore the peace, beauty and balance in our life. Jane Austen’s works always succeed with me. I am planning to read Emma again.

4. Akhil Sharma’s “Family Life”

This is a Folio Prize winner that made it to the top 10 on the New York Times best -seller list. It is dark and humourous, I have heard and that is just kind of book I am aching to read this year.

5. Ruth Reichl’s “Delicious”

I love Ruth Reichl. Her Garlic and Sapphires was hilarious and insightful. But “Delicous” happens to be the America’s favourite Food writer and restaurant critic’s first fiction -writing attempt. I have heard rave reviews about it and a food book is a compulsory read for me. Obviously.

6. Rachel Joyce’s “Unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry”

I friend I met on one of my travels recommended this book and that is how I got this book. All I know about the book is that it is a story with a savage twist. 

I think this is going to be a 4-part series where I am going to discuss the book that will make it the list for 2016. I will also try and do a review but I won’t promise because I do short reviews of the books I read on my instagram ( @sliceofmylyfe) and Goodreads account.

Have a fab New Year everyone and happy reading.

Chocolate Chocolate Cookies and a note about lost things

15 Aug

Tinkerbell is a collector of lost things. With these lost things she made the most useful inventions which helped make the life of the fairies of Neverland better. Mimi and I love Tinkerbell. She is our favourite fairy.

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When Mimi was younger, she had this incredible talent of finding lost things too. When she was a toddler, she would bound about around the house and find stuff that we would have given up for good. My favourite clip from under the bed, hoards of pens stuck in between the sofa crevices, abandoned restaurant bills which are the only evidence of the good times we had with friends.  Finding them, looking at them creates their own separate memories. That is the beauty of finding lost things. Today Mimi is 4 years old, soon to be 5. She still retrieves her Ammamma’s glasses from wherever she last left them. That is the uncanny ability that children have. We grown ups are hopeless like that. We lose things that then forget that we lost them. That is how I am. What’s gone, its gone forever. New things take the place of lost things. But today, I feel a little different.

Because I lost a poem.

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I wrote it on a whim with the excitement of a child for having seen a beautiful cookie. That cookie was my muse and it made me write a poem. I never write poems because they are not for me. I read and enjoy poems written by others. But I never write one.

This cookie is special. It forced me think like a poet and express like one. It was actually quite nice, is what my friends and family told me. But no one saved it and neither did I. So I have lost it forever and I can’t seem to recreate it. The cookie is still inspiring and that is why I am sharing it today in this blog post. But the poet in me, is silent. I depend on Mimi to write one and bring it back to me, like she has always done by finding lost things and bringing it back to me. That will make a separate memory.

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This is the chocolate chocolate recipe that Mimi baked like a dream and it made it into a magazine. The Bahrain Confidential featured me as the blogger of the month. Check out their beautiful, brand new website and their digital edition here. Thank you.. Melissa!

Bloggers Bytes BC August 2014

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The recipe is simple and uses very few ingredients. It is gluten – free, dairy – free and nut – free though, that was not intentional. I tried it, because I thought it would make for some amazing cookies. It uses enormous about of icing sugar but let that not scare you. The recipe is as follows:

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Here’s wishing all my Indian readers, a very happy Independence day today! Cheers.

Parenthood and other things + Chocolate Pistachio Fudge

19 Feb

Being a parent is the most fortunate thing to happen to anyone –  seems like an overstatement but I think it’s absolutely true. When Mimi was born, it took me a while to step out from the state of awe. Tiny and vulnerable, my new-born looked like the most exquisite thing I had ever laid my eyes on. Unfortunately, unlike most of you, I didn’t take to motherhood naturally. It took me a great while to figure her out. I was too scared to trust my instincts or for that matter even my husband’s as far as Mimi affairs were concerned. Be it her colicky experience, her natural tendency to run before she started walking, her difficulty in pronouncing ” Y” and “Th” words ( words like yellow were pronounced as Lello and Bath was Baff).  Rather than trusting my own instincts, I would look up the internet or talk to my mother who I thought is the authority in raising a child since she managed to make something out  of me! But over a period of time, I have understood Mimi and my instincts are better positioned to work and deliver.

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Despite having four solid years of experience of raising a child, both my husband and I still struggle when it comes to trusting our instincts as parents. It becomes increasingly difficult especially when a credible source like school and especially your child’s teacher tells you certain things about your child that you find difficult to refute. It was when Mimi joined nursery that I went back to work. It was  a trying time for both of us because we spent nearly 3.5 glorious years together before this abrupt separation happened. ( including the pregnancy months when I took a sabbatical from work)

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The first year passed incident-free but the second year onward we received a steady stream of complaints from school regarding her behaviour. Mimi suddenly resorted to displaying sudden bursts of temper and several cases of disobedience. These complaints did not cease even after several attempts of intervention with Mimi. We, as parents, were at our wits end. The teacher and school started to label her as someone with ADHD and that increased our anxiety levels beyond imagination. Every single day was spent trying to make Mimi understand about good behaviour but none seem to work. Somehow we resigned to believe that maybe Mimi did have ADHD and perhaps as the teacher suggested would need medical attention and therapy.  We spoke to several counselors, Psychotherapists and child psychiatrists and each one of them strongly recommended that we should wait it out because at 3  years it was too early to diagnose anything. It was the most grueling time for us as parents and midst all of this confusion, the school gave us a hard time questioning our parenting skills.

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Finally, after months of sleepless nights, we decided to trust our instincts and take her off the school especially when certain stray incidents of discrimination came to my knowledge. It was as if the school did not want her too. Truce was declared and Mimi spent  several months at home doing what she liked – painting, writing, watching her favourite shows, eating wonderful food and chilling out. What surprised me was that she was  a completely different person at home as compared to how the teachers projected her – A devil child.

For a parent, there no bigger grief trust me.

Once she was off school, there was collective sigh of relief and life went on.  Towards the beginning of a new year, I went up to one of the smaller nurseries in town and requested them to take Mimi. The new school gladly took her and Mimi began a new life with new classmates, new teachers and a brand new atmosphere. By the grace of God, she took to this new school rather easily and the positive environment did a good deal of good. Her beautiful character sparkled through and she started to enjoy the new tryst. There were never any complaints from school and we thanked our lucky stars that she found a loving environment that cherishes her for what and who she is.

We are so happy that we trusted our instincts and got her off the previous school without falling for the teacher’s random observations of Mimi having ADHD. These days ADHD has become the easiest label given to a child who is slightly naughty. I feel it is utterly unfair when schools and their ‘qualified’ teachers assume this easy way of relinquishing all responsibility when it comes to handling children with different capacities and energy levels by pronouncing them as either developmentally slow or suffering from ADHD.

Hence a lesson to learn from our bitter experience would be always, ALWAYS trust your own instincts in matters relating to your child.

Only yesterday we got to know that Mimi got accepted at the “Big School” after a thorough interview process and fantastic recommendation from her current school. We are so proud of her and how she has transformed in the last 6-8 months with the new school. It is a big milestone for us as parents and a beautiful opportunity for Mimi. This joyous moment called out for something sweet and beautiful and the chocolate pistachio fudge was the right choice – instinctively. 🙂

It asks for very few basic ingredients and very little prep. It is fudgy and full of chocolate goodness. You would be surprised how quickly these vanish – these little bites of heaven. Enjoy these one at a time with your children and treasure every moment spent with them because time’s flying away. Wishing you all a terrific mid-week!

Click to see the enlarged picture of the recipe card

Click to see the enlarged picture of the recipe card

 

Hello, I love you….

12 Feb

It is that time of the year where corny rules and cheesy is the flavour of the day. Valentine’s Day is a week away and my inbox is spammed with emails from chocolates and flower companies with shopping suggestions. As years have rolled on, Valentine’s day for me isn’t about fluttering heart beats and romantic cards anymore. As a matter of fact, the only times I have been aware of this love-day was when my husband surprised me with gifts. Even he knows that this day doesn’t stir me though I appreciate all his efforts. But this year, it was different. This new person in my life just blew my mind away with the most wonderful gift. I know now that you can never be too old for mush.

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Do you see that little red heart in the center of the red velvet I and U?

My baby made it for me. She drew a heart which she claimed was only as big as her own heart that beats “thud thud , thud thud”. She coloured it with her red colour pencil and used her child-friendly scissors to cut the heart out. She came up to me while I was busy with something in the kitchen and called out, “Hello, I love you..”

I turned around to see her holding out this little red paper heart out to me.

“Happy Valentines Mamma. Keep this in your purse. I made it for you. Don’t ever lose it.”

I took it from her tiny fingers that were dented from the intense pressure of colouring the paper heart.

RVB3I stood in the kitchen holding the paper heart long after the little artist was gone. I placed it delicately in the palms of my hands wondering how much I loved this little person. To have her reciprocate in this fashion was the ultimate joy I have ever experienced. My child is growing up and she is exploring different emotions. I sense a change in her and in the way she reacts to the world around her, including me. Her reciprocation blew my mind away. For that moment, I felt she loved me more than I thought I loved her. I slid her precious heart in my purse and as I looked up I saw her observing me. She smiled because she was happy I was following her instructions.

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When I got back to my chores, I noticed her rummaging through my purse to make sure her heart was in the right place and safe. Satisfied, she went back to doing her own thing. That is when I thought of making these lovely red velvet chocolate brownies to show my 4 year old how much I appreciate her gift of love. I used a red velvet recipe to capture the colour of her red paper heart that went “thud,thud thud thud”.

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The recipe makes a very small batch – just enough to please a 4 -year-old girl. 16 pieces in all but full of chocolate and red velvet goodness. I refered to Averie Cook’s recipe to make these decadent plum coloured beauties.

The recipe is below in the recipe card (click on it to see the enlarged version). I urge that you make this small batch of beautiful red velvet brownies and see how happy it makes your loved ones.

RVB5It is remarkable how love takes different forms as we grow older. Its meaning and its essence changes over time and becomes mellow and enduring. My daughter’s eyes lit up the moment she saw this chocolate covered squares and I realized I hit a home run.

Hope everybody has a beautiful Valentines.Celebrate love, celebrate closeness and feel lucky.

My feature in the “What to expect” website + a Quail egg salad

23 Nov

Pregnancy was the best time of my life.

Largely because I was in beautiful country (UK) during the best of weather (the English Summers), busy moving houses ( 3 in total in the span of 8 months) and reading. I read a lot books and one of them never left my bedside – What To Expect When You are Expecting  . This book has been my friend and my guide during all the times I felt unsure about several things during my pregnancy. Soon after Mimi was born, I got the sequel to it called What to expect in the first year which was equally helpful. Every topic, question, discussion is covered in these books which is comprehensive and so easy to read. I gave my book away to another couple who were expecting and I am sure they would have found very useful too.

I was very excited when  What to Expect contacted me to contribute to their ” Word of Mum ” column. They wanted me to do a piece about my life as a food blogger mum in Bahrain. I have regularly chronicled my life as an expat on the pages of this blog and to put it all in 600 word format was quite interesting a challenge for me. I tried to highlight my transition from someone who felt lost to someone who enjoys doing a multitude of things. Here is an excerpt from the article and for the rest of the article you can go to the website.

“What would you do in a situation where there are too many variables out of your control? We experienced this firsthand four years ago when we moved to Bahrain, a tiny island country in the Middle East. As consultants, my husband and I had experienced several episodes of settling and unsettling in new countries for work, but now the crucial difference was: We had a six-month-old baby. Also, after several years of working, I had chosen to become a stay-at-home mum.

Therefore, I was forced to solve a complex equation: my new role as a mum plus a new baby plus a new stay-at-home status plus a new country…how would it all add up?”

For the rest of the article, click here

Now for a beautiful salad recipe that I would like to share here. It is healthy and oh-so- yummy.

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I always wanted to taste Quail eggs but never got around doing it. So I put it up on my culinary bucketlist and this is my opportunity to tick it off.

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This salad recipe has very few ingredients but it is full of flavour from the toasted walnuts, mandarin pieces and a tantalizing sweet chilli vinaigrette. Addition of Quail eggs makes it nutritious and filling and I did not think it any different from normal chicken eggs. So I would recommend Quail eggs to anyone who loves chicken eggs.

Hope you enjoy reading the article and let me know your thoughts in the  comments section.

All photos courtesy – Namit Bhatia

Mimi turned 4…. ( A pirate princess party for my princess)

19 Oct

…. a month ago.

My little baby is grown up now. It is delightful and scary at the same time. Sounds cliched. I have heard every parent say this – Oh they grow up so fast and we with them. But as parents, we are such emotional creatures and it is easy to spot us if you find someone:

1. Tearing up in a movie hall anytime there is a emotional scene involving a parent and their child
2. Always ending every conversation with some detail about their children
3. Scanning the internet for kids toys, costumes, clothes, books, shoes etc
4. Vacillating between moods of extreme happiness ( while flitting through kids pictures on the phone) to extreme anxiety (on receiving a phone call from school reporting the kids behavior)
5. Appearing to be burnt out and sleep deprived yet smiling at the end of the day when it is time to go home to their child

What I describe above is the journey of being a parent ( sometimes all of it in a single day). But birthday party planning is something else. The madness starts a month before and continues till the child curls up and sleeps- tired and with a smile on her face dreaming about the wonderful birthday party. That is the sign of success and makes all the effort well worth it.
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Each year, I try to do something different keeping up with whatever is Mimi’s favourite. She enjoys the ‘Jake and the Neverland pirates’ and ‘Sophia the first’ shows on Disney junior and informed me that the theme of her party had to be either pirates or the princess. I wondered if it was possible to have them both and that is how the Pirate and Princess themed party idea was born.

I couldn’t have done it without my husband’s help and all the creative ideas from Namit. Starting from the pirate -princess themed invites to the cake to the decorations and the games – was planned, dropped, re-planned, dropped and planned again several times before finalizing on the details.
We urged the invitees to come dressed up as pirates or princesses and we supported them with more pirate/princess props. Even the adults were sporting enough to wear the props and pose for photographs.
The decorations ( entirely Namit’s idea and effort) were mostly pirate-y but balloons were mix of pirate and princess colours of black, white and pink.

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For the cake, we ordered a two -tiered chocolate buttercream cake with pirate -princess them. The cake was delicious and all the guests had several helpings.

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We had the caterers come in and serve tasty Indian food with desserts.
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We couldn’t go through with all the planned games because the party started later than planned. But all in all the kids had a good time playing in the play area outside the party hall. They all left the party tired, happy and with return gifts ( that Mimi had a huge problem distributing and wanted all of them for herself)

thats me (left) and a guest

thats me (left) and a guest

Pirates and princesses

Pirates and princesses

Party games ( The birthday girl)

Party games ( The birthday girl)

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For me the highlights of the party would be:(by now you should know I am a big list maker)
1. Mimi wore a dress (yoo hoo). Considering how she abhors dresses and all things girly, it was a big win for me. She even wore a head band with butterflies and such.
2. The 2 tiered chocolate cake- Mimi’s eyes lit up when she saw the cake in the morning. She quickly changed her mind about wearing pants and decided to wear a dress that matched the cake. All pink and girly, she looked like a star.
3. I baked a gluten free and diary free cake for a guest’s child who was intolerant. It came out wonderfully which wasn’t surprising as it was a Nigella recipe. Unfortunately I don’t have pictures and can’t do a post on it for the moment. What this means is, I will have to make it again to post it on the blog. ( I hear a big shout out from Gayathri for this)
4. My get up inspired by Penelope cruz from the Pirates of the Carribean movie. It was so much fun wearing the eye patch and the pirate hat!

I am sure the party was as fun for the adults as it was for all the children. All party pictures courtesy – Namit Bhatia

For a parent, their child’s birthday is the most important date on a calender. We strive to make it memorable for us more than our children (because they are too young to remember except when they would see pictures in the future). We do this for us, for our satisfaction and somewhere to allay some fears of how time is just bounding past us. I see my baby girl turn into someone new when I spot she doesn’t have chubby cheeks anymore, that her features are more prominent and that she is becoming her own person giving her point of view about everything ( sometimes it shocks me when I realize every moment she is learning something new and spinning her own thoughts around it).
This pirate princess party was for me and my joy+sadness of seeing my child move into another glorious year.

Mimi’s chocolate cupcakes w chocolate ganache & her favourite sunny spot

20 Sep

Though the summer holidays are long gone, it would unfair, if I didn’t do post on Mimi’s baking projects. The blueberry swirl cheese cake,  ginger -orange cookies (whose pictures I do not have), Mimi -special marshmallow brownies and these chocolate cupcakes have been Mimi’s baking trysts. From an objective standpoint, I have to say, she is quite good and loves to get her hands dirty with flour, sugar, butter trio. It is a joy to see my 4 -year-old taking interest in baking. It makes baking extra special.

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There are many things that Mimi says which don’t register at that precise moment. Several days or even months later, an epiphany would come and with it such clarity.  Mimi stopped going to school long before the term was actually over. Probably that school wasn’t right for her. Anyhow, the moot point being Mimi spent a lot of time home being pampered silly by her nanny ( when I was away at work) and by us (  when my hubby and I got back home from work).  Not going to school had in no way stopped Mimi from learning new things, tricks and tactics. It is amazing how children are learning continuously without really being aware of the process. Somehow, it is us, the smart adults who think we know everything, thereby stalling the glorious process of learning.

CM5While she was at home, Mimi threw herself wholeheartedly into the solving her puzzles; starting from 10 pieces, 20 pieces, 50 pieces and now 100 pieces.  This was her main activity during the day, from there on she would do some reading, pretend played with her stuffed animals, a tea party in the afternoon with her stuffed animals again, rode her bicycle in the house ( scaring the nanny by whizzing past her at lightning speed) and then finally waiting for us to come home from work. She would then run to us, all excited and happy and cling around my husband’s neck persuading him to take her swimming. On most days, she would already be in her swim wear eagerly looking at the door.  Weekends were mostly about spending time playing and reading. At times we baked together and quite recently, Mimi has been baking all by herself. She took my help only to measure her ingredients. Otherwise she was handling her show quite confidently.

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The chocolate cupcakes and the marshmallow brownies were completely her baked treats. They were scrumptious and delightful.  I helped her melt the chocolate in the microwave and then finally pushed the cupcake tins into the oven.

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I have observed her enjoying the mixing and adding of ingredients. At times, she even tasted the batter and nodded her little head in approval. The batter -test is something that she is used to as I would always let her have a lick of the batter whenever I baked. Her reaction to the taste of the batter gave me a heads up about the end product.

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During this cupcake baking session, as I stood and watched her from a distance, she looked back and smiled at me. I smiled and gestured to her, if she needed some help. She immediately said, “No mamma, I can do this all by myself.” I beamed for I was a proud mamma of an ferociously independent 4 -year-old. Then she looked at me and I knew  a question was coming my way. She asked me,

“What is your favourite sunny spot , mamma?”

In that moment, I took some time to understand her question and then remembered feeling stumped. I did not have an answer. She continued with the buttering of the cupcake liners and then said, ” Mamma, cupcake is my favourite sunny spot.” That is when I understood what she meant by  a ‘ favourite sunny spot’.

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I pushed it to the back of my mind and it did not come up until the day I was at sitting the porch of my parents home (India, Kerala), sipping on a late afternoon tea and watching the thick sheets of rain pouring around me. It was a moment perfect because of its stillness. There was nothing preceding or succeeding. Just a thought- less few minutes of listening to the rain falling on the roof and on the plants. A moment where I wasn’t thinking, analyzing or guessing. Only listening. And then I remembered Mimi’s question and now I knew the answer to that.

This was my favourite sunny spot. A moment of perfect stillness. Nothing to cloud my vision except for the blanket of rain drops falling from the skies. Ironically, it wasn’t sunny. Far from it.  But this was decidedly my favourite sunny spot – on my parents’ porch, sipping my warm tea, watching the rain. I called out to Mimi, who was busy watching “Chotta Bheem” on the telly. She came out to the porch, slightly annoyed with the sudden interruption.

“What is it, mamma?”, Mimi inquired.

“Mimi, this is my favourite sunny spot!” , I replied. She looked at me quizzically and then took off to continue to watch Chotta Bheem.

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“As for the cupcake recipe, this is the same as Nigella’s old fashioned chocolate cake that we baked as cupcakes. The only difference was the batter was poured into cupcake liners to fill them to 3/4 so as to not let it overflow when they are baking. We baked it at 180 C /350 F for 15-20 minutes until the top feels firm. For the  dark chocolate ganache – 

150ml cream

200g chopped dark chocolate

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Set aside. Bring the cream to just below boiling point in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat, then add the melted chocolate and stir until smooth. Allow to cool until thick but still pouring consistency.”

It is as simple as it gets but like all of Nigella’s recipes, these cupcakes are big on taste.

For Mimi, baking these chocolate cupcakes meant being in her favourite sunny spot and for me it was that exquisite moment of watching the thundering rain.

What is your favourite sunny spot?

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