After a hiatus of six months, I committed to make time to write. But what's a personal commitment when you have a little at home! :) On March 27, I gave birth to my very own squishmallow. From being a tiny human in my womb to a chirpy thriving bub figuring out this world, my baby boy has enlivened the sundry colours of life itself — true to his name, Abir (who I'm going to refer as baby A from hereon.) So while baby A naps, here I am today, trying to write again after many failed attempts.
3 days after A was born, the spring sun was peeking through the sky. Fluffy transient snow had begun to settle on the ground. Blue and white mountains, bare trees and the mighty Yukon river set up the most beautiful backdrop as S and I, swaying with happiness, drove from the hospital to bring our boy home.
It was late afternoon when we arrived as nervous and excited newbie parents. Everything at home felt a little anomalous, breathing in the frenzied state of affairs in which they were left when my water broke. You know that feeling of not being able to relate to your older self after a major change in life? S went out to run a few errands while A slept through the silence of the house. As I picked clothes off the drying rack and watched the amber gold sky through the window, I felt a bout of melancholy—a feeling of being glutted with emotions. I was trying to put all the pieces together somehow, of pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood and everything in between. Like always, I scribbled to enshrine my thoughts and to remember those fleeting moments later.
A pot of tea brewed in the kitchen behind me. The sound of the toaster popping slices of bread, the smell of store-bought soup getting hot on the stove, the sight of plants on the elevation of the kitchen counter, reminded me of what mundane felt like, and amidst the anomaly of all things, the feeling of being home returned. Everyone has somewhere—a space, a place, a spot or a scene—where they feel like themselves, in their own element, close to their being. For me that place has been my kitchen in every home that I have made. I knew I had to cook something in those precise moments—like how we make something sweet in a new house or at the start of a new beginning.
Post a c-section, I had been barred from lifting anything heavier than my baby which meant no serious cooking for a while. But I knew I had to make a sweet treat to celebrate my boy's homecoming. What could be the quickest, easiest and yet tasty dessert I could put together while doing almost nothing in the kitchen? It had to be sooji ka halwa—semolina roasted in ghee to an earthy brown, topped with thrice the amount of water and almost the same amount of sugar (or a little less for people like me) as itself. It's basic and plain, and maybe that's why it renders that feeling of home for me every time. I remember my mom often made this halwa as an after-play snack or as prasad (offering to gods) on many occasions or as a something-nice when we were sick or celebrate little achievements of her 'littles'.
Before I could begin, A woke up, and there I was at close quarters of my new life. There was not going to be any halwa making in the next hour or so! Holding A in my arms, I showed him around the kitchen where I cooked everything throughout my pregnancy, feeding him even before he was born. S came back and persuaded me that it was getting late and to instruct him on making the halwa the next day. So the halwa got made a day later. I rocked A to sleep sitting in the vicinity of the kitchen and oversaw the cooking. We lit a lamp in the puja mandir (alter) and offered a bowl of the halwa as prasad seeking blessings for our bundle of love.
Our children are our hearts walking outside our body as Elizabeth Stone, the author of the Boy I once knew, has aptly said. 259 days of growing, nurturing and caring for a new life inside me. 96 days since A's arrival. 96 days have unfolded as he has grown every minute. 96 days since I became a mother. 96 days of joy, tears, laughter, fatigue and chaos. Still, I'm at a loss of words to describe what this journey has meant. S and I often relive those 36 hours and more leading up to A's birth, going back in time and talking to comprehend, pause and remember. Every time we do so, I remember that first evening of being at home with Abir, falling back to the humdrums of life and that urge to make halwa and the sweet smells of the semolina concoction a day later easing us into our prosaic days after a life changing experience.
I cannot think of a simpler and quicker dessert in the Indian meetha genre other than this. Especially, in the plethora of homemade Indian sweets. Perhaps, I am not that good in making a lot of traditional Indian mithai, and so this conclusion 🤷🏽♀️. But halwa, and that too with sooji is a no brainer for me any day.
I'm looking forward to baby A growing up and making him many more halwas, namkeens and whatnot, and have him around in our kitchen—the heart of every home S and I live.
Just remember the ratio of 1:3 for semolina to water and 1:1 for semolina to sugar. Use slightly less sugar if you don't like your desserts too sweet like me.
1 cup sooji (semolina)
1 tablespoon ghee
4-5 cardamoms pounded
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar depending on how sweet you want the halwa to be
3 cups water
(optional) 1/4 cup raisins, almonds, cashews, pistachios
In a pan or wok, heat ghee and then add the cardamom. Next add the semolina and roast on low to medium heat for about 20-30 minutes until the colour changes to light brown.
Once the semolina is roasted, add water and stir. Then add sugar and keep stirring on low heat. Be careful as the mixture has the tendency to splutter. Keep mixing and stirring until the halwa comes together and leaves the sides of the pan/wok.
Add the raisins, almonds, cashews and pistachios if using and mix. Serve warm and enjoy!
Note: You can easily store the leftovers in the fridge and re-heat before eating. If you wish to keep it on the counter, you may have to increase the amount of ghee for shelf-life.