Monday, November 16, 2009

Sugarcane Candles

I had my second annual Divali dinner last month (I just realized that when I say it like that, it sounds like a real tradition!). It's a tradition I really enjoy keeping, though my dinner parties don't resemble the Divalis I grew up with.

For one, it wasn't called Divali. It was Divari with the accent on the first syllable. The Indian New Year I grew up with had lots of family and the homemade sweets that you could only have at that time of year and maybe little presents for the kids - or maybe I'm making that part up, not sure. My grandparents' apartment was always alit with candles to keep away the evil spirits and the doorways were decorated with wreathes of flowers and scrolled designs on the thresholds made of colored powders. Everyone endeavored to get along for the night and usually did. Which meant they'd all get together and urge on the child of the house - me - to do the prayer/benediction/ceremony that involved walking around the house with a homemade sugarcane candle chanting the Aireu Maireu (anglicized obviously). I'd wonder at how the piece of sugarcane with the cotton ball wick turned into a candle, get horribly bashful about the chanting, thrill to the moment and then ask for another of the sweets. All the food was always delicious - not just because of the holiday but because my grandmother was a great cook.

Cooking is one of the arts that I wish I had cared to learn from my grandmother when she was still alive to teach me. She died about 10 years ago and it was a few years before I realized the lost knowledge. But I still missed eating good Indian food so I started cooking anyway using cookbooks. It wasn't the same, but I had to start somewhere and I got better the more I cooked. After moving to DC, deciding to have the first Divari dinner party was a big deal - would we end up eating anytime that night? would it feel like something was missing if there weren't sugarcane candles and chanting? what if someone was allergic to something? and of course, would it taste good? It all came together beautifully though and that's when I started branching out beyond Indian food for people other than myself.

I'm not experienced enough with Indian cooking to be the intuitive cook that my grandmother was but, in getting to a place where I enjoy sharing my cooking, I feel like I've reclaimed some of what was lost. Except the sweets. I need to figure out how to make those to complete the lesson!

It's probably just as well that I forget to take pictures at my dinners since these and these are much, much cooler.

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