Is there anything in the world more delightful than this sweet, juicy, mouth-watering, totally addicting (yes, addicting!), delicious and invigorating fruit? I definitely don't think so.
Growing up, I was never interested in fruits of any kind. One of my earliest memories is of my father walking through the door carrying cartons filled to the brim with every type of produce imaginable and my mother worrying about the uneaten delights potentially spoiling in her kitchen. My 7 year-old mind could not comprehend why anyone would willingly choose to eat these over the multitude of sugar-laden treats readily available.
Fast forward a couple decades (and 2.5 children) later to my third pregnancy when my body began to crave items entirely grown from earth. I frequented stores I'd never previously even noticed only to try new things. I found myself constantly going back for strawberries, consuming anywhere between 2-4 lbs within days. Addicted? Definitely.
The baby from that pregnancy turns 9 this week. No surprise that she came into this world with a strong love for my much loved reds. Needless to say, we constantly fight over that last berry! I make it a point to incorporate these into her birthday cake each year. Celebrating her special day this way allows me to also secretly honor my father's birthday which coincidentally happens to be this week as well. Over the years, I have come to realize how this baby's birth has stirred decades worth of bottled-up emotions within me simply by changing what I was desiring to eat, inevitably jogging suppressed childhood memories, especially those of my father and his foodie tendencies.
I enjoyed being daddy's little girl. He prayed for a daughter when most wished for sons. He was the only one who truly understood my need for solitude and how it was perfectly natural for us to be able to spend quality time enjoying each others company in absolute silence. In our time together, we learned that we both shared a strong love for horses, the complexity of numbers, and traveling the world through books. His love was unlike others. When he saw me reacting to watermelon as a toddler, apparently something I truly enjoyed, he would wake in the middle of the night to pray specifically for this. It worked; within days, the allergy was gone. This was my father. It is true what they say about a girl's first love. Only a father can love a girl with that much heart.
Often I wonder if things would have been different had he been alive today. Would I be the same person I am today or would I have taken life for granted by having the privilege of growing up in a "normal" household? While I cannot answer these questions, what I can say is that I came to quickly understand the value of life and how anything could change at a moment's notice. Those events early in my life left me feeling like I was lost in a dark maze and to this day I am working on finding my way out.
My last interaction with my father was such: he was standing in a doorway waiting for me to hug him, to say goodbye, but I was too angry to care. He was leaving on a trip (for medical procedures I knew very little of) with my mother and older brother while my younger brother and I were to stay with relatives. I could not understand why he would agree to this if it meant leaving behind his "favorite child". Deeply hurt and upset, I let it show. Little did I know, though, this would be my last moment with him, he was to pass away days later in a city far from home.
Heart. His stopped. Mine broke.
I spent much of my preteen years dreaming he was still alive. I often dreamt he would surprise me by just showing up somewhere, anywhere. That the plans he and I had made just a few weeks before his sudden passing would finally happen. Surely this was all just a bad dream, I was bound to wake up soon.
Only recently have I begun to come to terms with his absence in my life; my wedding, my babies, their first steps, countless graduations, and so on. I know in my heart now that he is not far, that he is aware of the things I desperately want to share with him, like how his eldest grandchild shares his love for animals, how strikingly his grandson resembles him each time he smiles, or how his littlest granddaughter's fascination with the outdoors is so like his. Knowing he is in a better place is the only assurance that life is good. I am learning what it means to live life to the fullest, to enjoy every minute of everything, to celebrate all the big things and all the little things, to forgive quickly, and to love those in my life with everything I have. In the end, this is all that matters.
Happy birthday to my dear father and my sweet, spunky wild child.
For those who have lost loved ones, this song has been a source of healing when I am struggling to find my way through that dark maze. I hope it brings peace to anyone in need.
"But I got through all the pain when I truly accepted that
Berry Overload Birthday Cake:
Layer cake: (I doubled this to make a 4 layer cake)
1 ½ cups softened butter
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 (8 oz package cream cheese)
¼ cup butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350F. Line two 8 inch pans with parchment, butter bottom and sides. Cream butter, sugar, and honey until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Add eggs one at a time. Mix dry ingredients and fold them into butter mixture. Divide between pans and bake for 9-10 mins until set.
Cream butter and cream cheese together. Add vanilla. Then sugar.
Baking for an event is no easy feat. This week, my interfaith group was having its annual cookie exchange and like every year, I couldn't think of what delectable dessert would bring me joy--not for eating purposes but for baking. Something during this cookie journey took me back to my grandfather and I was immediately drawn back in time: how he was one of my biggest cheerleaders in life, how his wife and children were amazed at his personality change since I was born, how he asked me to make his tea (aka chai latte) each day even if it meant waiting until I got home from school, and so on.
My grandfather, known throughout his life as being the most strict and disciplined individual, lived and worked in India for most of his life. He was known to never celebrate or acknowledge any of his children's birthdays nor was he known to laugh much, so they said. His work was his life. He never envisioned living anywhere else. His four children were all happily married living in various parts of the world and he was blessed with many grandchildren.
Things changed quickly and drastically for him when his youngest daughter became a widow at the age of 30 with three young children in tow. He quit his hard-earned high-positioned job, sold his house, and moved to the US to live with my family. Everyone who knew him was stunned at the drastic changes he made but that didn't alter his decision.
My memories of him are not like they described. He celebrated all of my birthdays (I still remember the shock on my mother's and grandmother's faces when he walked to a bakery after work in the hot, Indian summer to hand-select my 11th birthday cake in order to surprise me). I remember him as the man who would smoke cigarettes daily (apparently since his teens) but gave this habit up in order to accommodate my dislike for it. I remember him as a man who never ate any food outside of what he was used to but the day I brought home muffins from my 7th grade cooking class, he gave it a try on his own and asked me to make him a batch every week from that day forward. Were these his ways of letting me know that he understood how the sudden loss of my father was affecting my heart, mind, body and soul? Was he telling me that even though I had been daddy's little girl for the last 10 years and would never be so again, that I should trust he would take care of me? Little did he or I know how that one request for making muffins would start me on the road towards baking to heal.
Sadly, my grandfather passed away the day before my wedding, the day before I was officially in the hands of another man whose responsibility would be to take care of me, "till death do us part". I wish I could have told my grandfather how much his life changes meant and how I truly appreciated the love he showered upon me. I know he would have loved to see me recreate his favorite cookie. For all of this and more, I am dedicating my first blog post to him. I love you, my dear Nana (Grandfather). Thank you for literally everything. Rest in peace.
Rose Cardamom Shortbread
makes 2 dozen
1 cup butter (room temperature)
1 cup powdered sugar (sifted)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups+ 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
2 tsp dried rose petals
2 tsp rose water
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
4-5 cardamom pods, crushed
Preheat oven to 350F.
Cream butter together with sugar, baking powder, and salt for about 3 mins.
Add rest of the ingredients and mix until blended.
Roll onto a floured surface. Form into a log about 3 inches in diameter. Freeze for 10 mins. Cut and bake for 8-10 mins, until edges are golden.
(Recipe adapted from Food for 7 Stages of Life)