I am no cook, but sometimes I get a mad scientist urge to try out something new. Being on a diet for my apparently stagnant liver adds enough challenge to interest me.
My boyfriend has a liver problem too, and we get all diseases together, which some would say means my liver isn’t the only stagnant thing in this story. So when he started salivating at all the cupcakes and sponge cakes out of our dietary reach in the supermarket, I decided to Bake a Cake.
First problem was sugar, which I wanted to substitute with jaggery (I seem to remember something about molasses in my sixth grade project about the “American Revolution”, but I could be mistaken). So the possibly historically significant jaggery, combined with racist-Gerald-Durrell’s-Corfu-conjuring olive oil (monounsaturated fatty acid, a term I learnt yesterday) instead of butter, and egg whites only. So far so good.
For the flour, I decided to use ragi (finger millet) flour, which however when eaten by itself, tastes too organic even for my pretentions to rural, traditional, “natural” food. Ragi balls are the traditional South Indian farmers’ and labourers’ food, fêted now by New Age dieticians, and hence politically deeply suspect to me. Not to mention their dense undifferentiated texture makes them cleave to the roof of my mouth and disallows mitigation through any kind of spice or sauce, making my paranoid mind think someone wants to out me as the spoilt urban refined-flour-eating inverted snob that I am.
I looked around and found some lentil flour, which I added confidently because I once mistook it for refined wheat flour and the cake that emerged thereof was edible. And a bit of oats for good measure.
Oh, and I mashed some bananas with my hand because I love to feel the stuff ooze from between my fingers. Added those too.
Then I “beat” the batter with my hands again in the absence of a blender, and it came out way too dark brown (damn ragi again), like it was the very organic Mother Earth that sustains us all. Trying to ignore my cake making fun of me (no mean feat), I proceeded to pour it into a stainless steel vessel (ungreased, of course, I forgot), and put it into a pressure cooker, this being the closest thing I have to an oven.
Having always steamed stuff in a pressure cooker before, I wasn’t sure whether to put water in or not. More worrying for someone who grew up with a physicist parent was the rubber gasket that expands with heat and makes the thing airtight. I see rubber gaskets and think of the O-rings of the Challenger, which Feynman’s post-mortem team found were responsible for its crash. I wasn’t sure if the gasket would burn if I didn’t use water. I put the gasket in, sniffing for burning rubber in the first few minutes.
But apparently cake (if I may call it that) burns faster than rubber. Smelling it beginning to burn, I put in water and took out the gasket so I wouldn’t get steamed cake. Then a rattling, poltergeist racket penetrated to the bedroom and I rushed to find my best stainless steel vessel dancing an angry jig inside the cooker, tossed by the boiling water.
I haven’t used my cooker recently, so I hadn’t predicted this. The expensive organic brown basmati rice my sister very sweetly bought for my diet turned out to take forever to cook in it, and by the time I figured out I had to soak it first, I was tired of using the cooker. My boyfriend suggested I try it on the squirrel outside, and I said no, it only eats peanuts (this was my vanity speaking, it actually ate half a peanut when I tried to give it a handful, and all my Enid Blyton dreams of squirrels and nuts died an early death). However, the squirrel ended up eating a handful of that expensive brown basmati rice faster than I’ve seen anyone eat anything. So now I’m reduced to the dilemma of worldly wastage of expensive food vs. unworldly satisfaction of our gourmet squirrel.
The last question: what to do with the egg yolk? I cooked it very crudely on the gas without oil just for solidity and hence portability, and packed it to appease the stray dogs in the neighbourhood who let me through in the daytime but get really territorial at night.
Anticlimax: Protection money taken care of, the cake was done and it came out okay. A bit pretentious-tasting, and a bit dry, but otherwise pretty good. The secret? I used very inorganic, toxic to the liver, good old baking soda. That stuff’ll make anything into a cake.