August 11, 2009
As we speak, Sandeep is upstairs with the plunger in the girls' bathroom. Apparently Neha's last masterpiece was the last straw for our overworked toilet. It swelled to the point of overflowing but THANK THE LORD no water hit the ground. I put the lid down and ran downstairs as fast as I could.
But not before checking on the four new additions to our family. Their names? Raju, Kaju (which means cashew in Hindi), Dadoo (which means frog), and Fluffy (who is the girls' puppy in India who they've been told is waiting for a passport to fly to Chicago). These are our new FISH. So far, they are alive. It's been one full day. We're doing great.
The dead bird the girls found in the back is safely underground in the front. They insisted I bury it. I was ready to put it into the trash can in the alley. I guess we compromised somewhat. (Oooops Aria just peeded on the floor again upstairs...AFTER Sandeep fixed the toilet. After a quick wipe down - I'm back!) About that bird...Aria wanted to keep it in the house in a jar as a pet. Neha and I finally talked her out of it. There was already a hole in the front where the girls dig for earthworms. So the bird fit right in there.
Well, I'm finally sitting. The girls are finally asleep - Aria safely with a pullup on, and I get to have my Chai. Let me clarify my thoughts on the term itself.
Many of you THINK you know what chai is. You THINK that's what you order when you go to the coffeshop. THINK again. I don't mean to sound angry about this, but it infuriates me that something as amazing and as simple as Chai has been adultrated to the point of ridiculousness here in the States.
I hate. Detest. Want to vomit. When I hear someone at a coffee shop, especially Starbucks, order Chai. I'm not really sure whose idea it was to sweeten black tea to the point of pure syrup, serve it in a cup, charge for it and call it chai. And, as if it couldn't get worse, label it Chai Tea. Folks, Chai actually means tea in Hindi and many other languages. When you say Chai Tea ... you actually sound kind of stupid to someone like me because you're essentially saying "Tea - Tea." Like Ping-Pong, Ding-Dong, Frick-Frack. Those words, though, go together and make sense when used in context. Chai-Tea does not and never will!
Okay. I'm off my soap box, but this has been building up for about ten years now. AND I have no advertisers to appease on this blog nor an editor to censor my truest and most passionate feelings. So, there you have it.
In India, it's common to find Masala Chai. This is just black tea infused with whole spices. The type used varies by households in India. I will post my own favorite. I hope you'll try it or post the special way you make tea in your home.
Growing up, on the weekends it was always my turn to make chai. The problem was that my parents were always up well before me. I was awakened with a ‘tap, tap, tap’ on our adjoining bedroom wall.
Even as early as 7 a.m. the tapping would come. It would start lightly and then gain in speed and intensity. With each tap I’d grow angrier and often would react simply by pulling my comforter over my head and pretending to sleep. Remaining in the small state of denial even for a few minutes empowered my powerless self. The gig was up as soon as I heard dad's voice. “Anupy. Wake up. Make some chai.”
Chai meant everything in our house, especially to my traditional father. It was the first thing that he wanted to drink on weekend mornings, and the experience was made sweeter by the way it was served. He liked to have his kids bring him his chai in bed. All I wanted to do was sleep for an extra hour. But, I was forced to give up that extra sleep to carry on tradition, respect and that caffeine fix.
Despite my resistance to the thought of serving anyone just because it was demanded of me, I made it my mission to learn how to make the best cup of chai on the planet. So I sprinkled and ground my way through the process. I would begin with a small pot and measure 2 1/2 cups of water (meant for three people). That was poured into the pot and set on medium-high. As I waited for a boil, I'd lightly mash by 2 green cardamom pods, a clove or two and a pinch of fennel seed in a miniature, brass mortre and pestle my mother kept in a drawer to the left side of the stove.
Once ground, the mixture was added to the boiling water. Then, came the teabag – one bag per two cups of water was my general rule. If I felt particularly generous, I’d add half a stick of cinnamon and grate half an inch of ginger and throw them into the dark, boiling concoction. Two minutes of boiling and then would come the milk (whole/2 percent/or skim), just enough to make the concoction slightly creamy. Too much milk and the proportion would be off. As the chai came to a full boil it would have to be watched intently lest it overboil.
Once boiled to the top rim of the pot, I’d turn the stove off, fish out the teabag, and put a lid on the pot to allow the intense heat to truly fuse all the flavors. Then, one more boil and I’d pour it into the respective mugs, along with a teaspoon of honey each.
Anupy's Masala Chai
1 1/2 cups water
1 black tea bag
3 small green cardamom
pinch of fennel seed
1 small piece cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon grated ginger
Milk (whole/2 percent/skim)
1/2 teaspoon honey or Agave nectar (love this stuff)
In a small pot, boil water and add teabag.
Lightly crush cardamom, cloves, and fennel seeds. Add to boiling water along with cinnamon and ginger.
Allow to boil until dark brownish black.
Add milk slowly. I don't like to use too much maybe 2 - 3 tablespoons at the most. Some people like their chai light, so they add more milk.
Watch closely as it comes to a boil. It can overflow very easily at this point.
Once it boils, spoon out the teabag and turn the heat off. Put the lid on and let it sit for about 3 minutes.
Take lid off and let it come to another boil. Serve immediately (have a tea strainer handy to hold over the cup while you pour through it to catch any spices). Add honey.
Mom - Dad - We'll finally be in King of Prussia this weekend. The first thing I'm going to do is make you my Chai!
Folks...if you don't think you can follow this recipe, think again. My 4-year-old Aria makes her own masala for chai. Yes, the girls drink it. I figure a tiny bit of caffeine is better than poisoning their little bodies with soda day in and day out!