Cross-Cultures & Desserts

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When I was a wee little thing living in a tiny two-family house in Clifton, New Jersey the one thing I loved beyond anything else…was chocolate pudding. 

We had only been in the United States for a few years and we weren’t exactly adventurous eaters yet, though we are now.

But back then, our diet rarely strayed from traditional Pakistani food and Western style desserts were an even rarer thing, besides store bought stuff like ice cream and cookies.

I remember, though, when my mom used to bring home these magical little boxes full of mysterious powders which would turn into different colors and consistencies when mixed with water or milk…pudding and jello!

My little child-mind could not handle the excitement. While jello was cool and everything, pudding was the real deal. That’s what got me hooked on chocolate (more or less addicted to dark chocolate, especially).

My mother made them rather well. As well as you could out of a box, anyway. But there were nights when both my father and mother were out working or studying and my grandmother would take care of my sister and I.

She has no idea how to make anything chocolate! But she is an extraordinary cook otherwise.

We asked her to make us some pudding and, well, she did.

Except every time she’d make it, she’d accidentally burn it. Where there should have been smooth creamy pudding, there were bits of char that stubbornly stuck to the tongue.

But, you know, I have that wonderful memory of my grandmother making us something she knew we enjoyed, even though she hadn’t the faintest idea how to make it or what the hell kind of child would eat instant-anything.

I don’t care. I love her for it. I love that pudding with the  burnt pieces of something or other.

And I adored my mother’s chocolate chip cookies, which, if you didn’t eat them straight away, you’d probably break a tooth.

But have you ever had my mother’s halva? Her doodh savai?   Her feerni? Her carrot halva? Everything prepared with love and butter and sugar,  painstakingly stirred over a blindingly hot stove for hours until it reduces, reduces, reduces…to perfection?

Try my grandmother’s desserts. Sure to blow your mind.

And to think, I would even compare my little party tricks with cake and cookies to what my mother and grandmother can do with a packet of crushed vermicelli. While I do bake rather well and rather often, alhamdulillah, I have made some pretty exquisite desserts (if I do say so myself, ahem ahem, mashAllah), but none of them, in their formulaic stirring and pouring, none of them compare to a cold rasmalai. Or a dish of kheer sprinkled with pistachios and almonds.

Or a glistening globe of gulab jamun.

Which, to this day, I haven’t the faintest idea how to make. None of it! I have no idea how to make any of it. Well..the halva I can manage with my mother standing watch..

…But, I pride myself in my chocolate  and flour adventures…because I’m a bit too nervous and scared to even touch upon Indo-Pakistani desserts.

The picture above is of the cupcakes I made this morning for my youngest sister. They’re from-scratch chocolate coffee cupcakes, topped with homemade pink cream cheese frosting, and drizzled with a homemade chocolate sauce, and then sprinkled with M&M’s (storebought, merf).

Assalamu Alaikum.

Nesha

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