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Friday, January 25, 2008

Dessert worth a long drive

I spoke, it would appear, too soon.

Not that there's a fresh crop of baby beets invading the cabbage patches in the countryside here in north India. But Old Man Winter has decided to pause, do a quick about-turn in honour — or so it seems — of the Republic Day parades on the 26th. And he's brandishing his gnarled, frost-rimed stick, which has got us all snuggling under the razai (the Indian quilts, famously of Jaipur in Rajasthan).

Yes, there's a cold wave on. Which also means too little power in our electricity grids all too often. In turn, fewer opportunities to blog, and cooking's not so fun either when the water out of the tap is icy and the kitchen criss-crossed by shivery draughts.

So we insisted on celebrating with ice cream.

And unlike many a midnight mouthful of cold that we've driven out for, this was one time I can safely say the journey was not the point. It was dessert that made our day, and made the long 2-hour drive down past Gurgaon and across rutted country roads worth the while, the bumps, the dust.

'Homemade' at the new Westin, Sohna-Gurgaon (India's first Westin in fact). But it wasn't quite the dessert we ordered. What I requested in fact — and you can see as much in the picture — was comfort food at its Sunday best: waffles, after much waffling over the rather unusually brave choices on the menu (for a 5-star city hotel).

Nor were we disappointed. Ah, but they were perfect waffles for a mint-new Sunday brunch — crunchy edges crumbling crisply against the fork, the pillowy honeycomb centres soaking up the maple-tinged smoky compote it came with. But it was the ice cream, its sidekick, that stole the show — and the attention of our tastebuds.

White chocolate and dripping honeycomb. Toffee sauce and macadamia on top. Frilled with a ruff of extra whte chocolate. Just one of a dozen-odd flavours they serve at the Living Room, the Westin's all-day eatery. (Next on my to-try list is the yoghurt ice.)

It inspired a baked bite soon enough. But that's a story for another day... For now, I'd rather close my eyes and savour that unexpectedly complex bittersweet (mostly sweet, but not too sweet, underlaid by the edge of the honey). And the sunshine through the glass, glinting on that melting white snowball of a scoop, warming our fingertips and cheering our hearts as it peeked through the ruby glassware.

Nope, Winter's no scary old grouch! He's the taciturn grand-dad who comes home from the fairgrounds to settle in his planters' chair with a grunt, whom no one dares approach until he's taken out his little silver snuffbox and had his tip. (Or smoked his chillum of sweet-scented tobacco, drawn burbling through the hubble-bubble.) And then he turns out his pockets, to heap on the floor and in outstretched palms treasures both mandatory for the season and unexpected until this very year.

For that, we salute him with our thick green glasses of masala chai and mulled wine.

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