She is back and this time with the French Kish. Read this story to find out.
By Somashis Gupta
Chapter 1 – The Stranger
I ignored it initially, considering it to be trivial, but then I heard Aarna’s voice “Papa the dogs are making strange noises, listen”. I looked up and found her standing by the window with an inquisitive look.
I listened. I could scarcely credit my ears, but there was the howling of the dogs. “They are howling” I explained.
“What?” Aarna asked.
“Well they usually do that to attract attention. Perhaps they have seen someone and announcing their presence”
“Why howl and not bark?”
“Perhaps because the person is known to them” said I.
“Known? How do you know?”
“Well, if the person was unknown then they would have barked if they felt threatened and in case they were unsure of the intention of the person they would hoof.”
It was then that we heard a slide creaking of the main gate and I looked out to find a stranger entering. She was a well dressed lady in a far cote and a fashionable muffler which somewhat covered her sharp wizened face peering out from a frame of blond hair. She was wearing sunglass which made it even more difficult to capture her features. But then as she came nearer I had no doubt that I know the face. She smiled at me.
“Good lord, what a pleasant surprise” said I with an expression of delight “I am sorry for the World Cup” I added “but your players surely played well.” In case you have not guessed yet who the stranger was, well to avoid the risk of telling a twice-told tale, let me remind you that the stranger is none other than Pouline Tremblay, the French researcher who, just a few months back, spent Poila Boishak with us.
Aarna was exhilarated to see Pouline. She said “Bonjour, Pouline , ca va?”. During her last visit Pouline taught Aarna some basic French like Bonjour which means Good Morning and ca va meaning how are you.
Chapter 2 – The Bonfire
It was the 22nd of December, the first faint winter’s dawn was beginning to appear, not bitterly cold though, but possibly to cherish the spirit of the season, I engaged the domestic helps to lit a fire at the courtyard in the evening. We nestled in silence for a while until Aarna asked with some concern “what cake will you bake for Christmas Mama?”
Her mother was just about to respond but then Pouline with great expectation requested “Puise-je cuire, can I bake?” she looked at Aarna’s mother “last time you cooked the traditional food of Bengal, now let me treat you to mine? Please?”
I was quite all these while. But with an idea of authentic French food, which I cherish so much, felt a strain of excitement flow within me. Aarna’s mother eyes which glittered expressing her delight to the idea. My mother too looked equally happy. Only exception was Aarna who looked skeptical at the idea. Realizing the same I assured her by saying “Aarna you will have the chance to taste one of the finest cuisine in the world for the first time” she looked contended at my assurance.
“But then Pouline what would you like to cook? I mean will we get all the ingredients here?”
My mother immediately reiterated the old saying “Kolkatay bagher dudh chaileo pawa jay, bujhachish” which was in a way true. I knew exactly where to go for the required ingredients for any European food.
“So what will you cook Pouline?”
Chapter 3 – From Oats to Flour
The question on the menu for Christmas remained unattended the previous evening. It was due to a phone call with required immediate attention. But the topic surfaced out the next day over breakfast.
“Tahole Christmas e ki ranna hobe?” asked my mother to Pouline.
“Pardone moi” said Pouline in her most delicate tone to my mother and turned to me for assistance “explique”.
“Well she wants to know what will you cook?” said I.
“A cake?” checked Pouline
“What kind of cake?” asked an enthusiastic Aarna.
“What are the cakes you know?” asked Pouline.
“Chiffon, Sponge, Genoise, I also know something, called biscuit cake” Aarna answered with some pride.
“Good” Pouline appreciated “but do you know Christmas cakes are much different then these?”
“Yes, I read somewhere that it was traditionally a plum porridge which people ate after 12 day of fasting. Over a period of time, this dish was added with dried fruit, spices and honey and eventually it turned into Christmas pudding” said Aarna’s mother.
“True, in fact it was only in the 16th century that oatmeal was removed and flour and eggs were added” I added.
“Well that brings me back to my question, what are you baking for Christmas?” questioned Aarna with an expression of anticipation.
“Why don’t we get the cake from Nahums and Pouline can cook a nice Christmas dinner?” I suggested.
Chapter 4- The Menu
That evening Pouline divulged her plans for the Christmas dinner. She wanted to treat us with a complete 12 course French menu.
We were more horrified then amazed. “12 course?” Aarna’s mother said “that would mean we will spend the entire day in kitchen”.
I too added by saying “that would be too much and just wastage of food.”
Realizing from our guidance and advise, she restricted the menu to Honey glazed Ham to be served with Pear and saffron chutney to give an Indian touch. Next would be Beef Wellington with mashed potato and white truffle shavings, followed by a Roasted turkey served with Cider and walnuts, and finally to give it the French touch the famous Quiche Lorraine.
Of course the tradition of a boro din er Cake from Nahums will be added to the bonanza.
Chapter 5 – Mise-an-place
After the menu was disclosed by Pouline I decided to take her to ‘New Market’ or Hogg Market for the purchase. Well, the online apps could have been useful but frankly in my opinion these apps can never beat the freshness and the quality of the Hoggs.
We bought the Ham from and the beef and finally the turkey. Talking of Turkey reminds me of sharing an interesting piece of information. Do you know what is Turkey is called in Turkey? Well interestingly it is called ‘Indi’ in Turkey.
Coming back to our purchase, we bought the other necessary ingredients from Babar Ali’s, the shop which has catered to such cuisine since ages, and then I decided to go ‘Mukherjee Wines’ and bought couple of bottles of Saint Cosme of Chateau De Rouanne.
Well that was yesterday and today even as you are reading this, Pouline, Aarna’s mother and my mother are busy with the Mise-an-place (mi zɑ̃ ˈplas) with means preparation. I wanted to join them, but was thrown out, know not why, but that gave me the opportunity to share this with you. Perhaps I will share the experience of the cuisine some other day.
Till than Merry Christmas everybody.
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A devoted foodie with keen interest in wild life, music, cinema and travel Somashis has evolved over time . Being an enthusiastic reader he has recently started making occasional contribution to write-ups.