Gingerbread houses or pulao mangsho, Christmas is the time to create warm and fuzzy memories

Memories of Christmas at didu's
Wafting out from this pulao mangsho meal

A tale that started in a gingerbread house

I recently wrote an article on Christmas eats for my column in NDTV Foods.

My editor at NDTV foods, Harnoon Channi Tiwary, wanted me to write about gingerbread houses.

"What is the brief?" I asked.

"Origins, customs around it," she replied tersely.

I got down to do my research and then write the article and in the process got to learn about customs I didn't know much about. 

I didn't eat a single gingerbread cookie while writing the piece on it. You don't always have to ply on the calories while writing about food you see. This was an article on traditions and not tastes after all.

What I also did while writing the article was to relive my Christmas memories which are spread across 3 countries and 5 cities. 

Gingerbread houses didn't feature in these and I wasn't sure how Harnoor would react to this.

"I loved the personal touch," was her reply when I filed the article much to my relief

So here's wishing all my fellow writers, bloggers and columnists this Christmas, editors who can give you just the inspiring canvas that you seek.

Christmas at Dadu and Didu's

One of my most vivid memories of Christmas was from when we had just moved in to my maternal grandparents the year my father had passed away. I was about 9 then, my brother barely 2 years old.

There was no Christmas tree at home for the first time in my life that year. We had left behind the Christmas tree my father had bought when he had moved into Calcutta. Buying a new one was too expensive for my mother. Also celebrating was possibly considered to be bad form for a house in mourning.

The magical Christmas tree

I looked glum. Then I am not sure what happened but I think chhotomashi, my youngest aunt who was visiting from Delhi, spotted an article in the children's page in The Statesman. The article spoke about making a Christmas tree with dried up branches branches of small trees (the garden variety) . The column also showed how to cut shapes out of coloured marble paper to use them as Christmas decorations.

My chhotomashi suggested we do so. 

My mom didn't want my brother and me to feel that life had changed, though it had, so she and my other aunt and uncle and  my grandparents played along. They got a branch from a bougainvillea tree from the yard outside while my chhotomashi and I did paper cuttings using my late father's surgical scissors.

Our tree was up. My folks got a little Christmas tree from the market and chips (crisps) too and we had a little party at my granny's and it felt like Christmas again. 

My mom took up her own apartment a year later close to my granny's and we moved out. We took the tree with us and used it for quite a few years after that in our new apartment. Every Christmas morning my brother and I would run to the tree kept in the hall to see the gifts Santa (my mom) had kept.

Boro Din special Mangsho and pulao at Didu's

On Boro Din, as Christmas is called in Bengali, after the British Hindi raj phrase Burra din, we would would all gather at my granny's place. As the brood grew there were more cousins too. It was a happy house

Every boro din, didu would make a traditional Bengali celebratory meal of pulao, begun bhaja and mangshor jhol.

The pulao that I cooked

The pulao was the Bengali sweetish pulao variously referred to as Basanti pulao or mishti pulao as we later learnt. We just used to call it just pulao while growing up!

It is vegetarian and no meat is added to it.

The mangshor jhol, or goat meat curry, that Banu made
After I put out the spices and gave her the recipe as I wasn't home to cook it
I prefer the niramish (onion and garlic free) mangsho these day
Not having to cook onions makes it faster & easier to cook than kosha mangsho

The manghsor jhol would be made with chicken for some reason in our houses. I think my mother, and the rest in our family believed, that chicken was healthier for the heart. I also think chicken was more easily accessibly by the mid 1980s and possibly cheaper too.

The lunch at dadu and didu's would be followed by a simple Christmas cake. A fruit cake from local shops in Bansdroni where we lived. I would really doubt if they contained any rum in them.

Taking flight

I never went back to Kolkata on Christmas after I left the city. The cold and the winter smog there didn't suit me.

Soon my brother and all my cousins followed and none of didu's grandchildren live in Kolkata. Dadu is no more. 

The city is rather empty and lonely. As is her house.

A bit of didu's magic in our home this Christmas

Didu would be happy to know that I made pulao and mangshor jhol (with mutton/ goat meat) for Christmas in Mumbai this year in memory of the Christmases we spent with her in Calcutta.

She would be happy to see that though we are in another city, our friends here make sure we don't feel alone in Christmas.

Was too gone to go out for breakfast on Christmas
A bacon jam made and gifted by a friend came to the rescue

To the friend who came and put up our Christmas tree  for us with Banu
as we had a chaotic day yesterday and  weren't home to do it ourselves

To our British friends who got us
gingerbread cookies from Germany
Different from in the UK, they said
We took them to a house party next door which made
a German guest nostalgic and the
Italians about the Christmas markets back home
K loved it too. I suspect because the taste was
similar to bada halwa

Didu would be feel happy and satisfied to see my plate of mangshor jhol and pulao that I had this Christmas. I should call her and tell her about it this evening.

Though I think she would be most happy to see the picture of the little strawberry pie, my 8 month old niece who is her first great grandchild, wrapped up in pink, whatsapped by my brother this morning from Guragaon to wish us a merry Christmas. She is building precious memories with her thammi, her granny and also my mom.

Merry Christmas everyone. Here's sending you some warm and fuzzy vibes.

PS: I felt a bit better when I called didu and she said my Boromashi had cooked and taken fried rice (pulao) and that she enjoyed the Christmas cake my friend Rukshana had sent her

My Christmas meal of pulao and mangsho
Wish I could have shared it with didu

Could also be of interest:

  1. My mishti pulao recipe
  2. My niramish mangshor jhol
  3. Link to my article on gingerbread houses
  4. My mother's blog post celebrating the spirit of Christmas