“Hmm….is that badam cake?”. (Badam is the Tamil name for Almond) The son’s nose whiffed and sniffed rapturously as he came home from school. I laughed at his reaction. The heavenly scents of ghee, almonds, milk, cardamom, and sugar have felled many a strong heart. No wonder celestial offerings have this combination of aromas the world over. I nodded and the little fellow ran inside. His grandmother handed him a warm piece of badam cake, and his eyes shone. His mouth watering, he gave her a hug, and knowing how his grandfather must’ve been the one who stirred the mixture for hours to get it to this consistency gave him a hug too.
Then he bit into it slowly: relishing, licking, savoring the cake in his hands, he danced a little jig.
Relishing badam cakes is a family tradition I think. Across the length and breadth of the family tree, you will find people who melt in anticipation of badam cake. The nephews, nieces, son, daughter, their parents and grandparents all smack their lips when the very name is mentioned. The grandmothers treasure the almonds more than diamonds.
A couple of days later we went on a short drive. The drive through the green hills of California was enough to raise the spirits of everyone in the car. The view of the rolling hills of the Bay Area is best in late winter and early spring. All around us is resplendent green tugging at the heart strings of poets to take up that muse of the alluring verdure. But, there are bounties waiting the moment you reach the plains too: fields of almond trees in rows and rows spread over acres like one of those 3-d models that mesmerize you in their symmetry and movement. In early spring, the almond trees are in full bloom. Watching the brilliance of their white snowy blossoms even non-poets feel their heart strings tug.
It is no wonder that Van Gogh and thousands of artists on this beautiful planet looked to almond blossoms as inspirations in their work. It is stunning. Vincent Van Gogh wrote in a letter to his brother as he worked on his famous Almond Blossoms painting:
I am up to my ears in work for the trees are in blossom, and I want to paint a Provençal orchard of astonishing gaiety.Van Gogh
Grown in France, Spain, Iran and California, almonds occupied prime real estate in the nourish-n-cherish childhood home. We had sturdy Godrej cupboards of yore for valuables. Other families stashed gold, silver, diamonds etc: ours had almonds and cashews.
Soaked, peeled with glee ( you could pop the almonds out of their skin after soaking, and several of them would escape and flee across the tables), ground, and then stirred with ghee, sugar and cardamom, this is a delicacy alright.
The son and I watched the trees in quiet symmetry zoom past our windows. Beautiful fields full of trees, quietly standing in the Californian soil doing all the hard work of blooming, sprouting and growing. How I wish we could learn from trees. How they go about the business of living and enabling living for creatures such as we: sans fanfare, yet with complete grace and majesty. A stoic patience underlying their vibrance; their steady creation the backbone of life on this planet.
I thought of the happy faces of the nourish-n-cherish household when we see the badam cakes each time. That godly moment of sliding the cake into the mouth – all starting with the astounding wondrous work of the almond flowers in bloom outside the window. It makes us pause and appreciate all that is takes to satisfy the human palette, doesn’t it?