Rohita Aiyer - Feb 21 2022
Carrots, Conflict, and Camaraderie
As I child, my sister and I had very different food preferences. She would eat cucumbers while I would pick them out diligently. I loved cauliflower but my mother had to mash it until it was unrecognizable for her. She was the adventurous one, while I needed to be mentally prepared before experimenting. I tried my first mango when I was twelve because I thought it looked mushy. Now, I eat them in unhealthy quantities.
We were just very different people. She, with her lithe, slim frame and athletic prowess, always made me feel like I would forever live as the chubby shadow of her size 0 body. She was forever jealous of my straight, long hair and the fact that I never had to wear braces. Forced into perpetual proximity, we were virtually always at odds with each other. We fought over toys, first rights on the bathroom in the morning, even the color of our bedspreads.
But our greatest battles were fought at the breakfast nook, jostling for space as my mother swatted our exploring hands away from the beautiful brown and orange cake cooling on the countertop. It wasn’t that she made a tiny cake. It was just that there were only a limited number of corners, and those were the coveted real estate on the cake. Crunchy corners, studded with granules of sugar and cake batter just this side of too brown. We did not fight politely. It was all-out warfare. We were mathematicians, calculating exact measurements, historians reviving from the archives who got the best corners the last time, scientists dissecting the corners in exact angles.
When I was 15, my sister left for college and I was the only person sitting at that counter, waiting for the cake to cool. I eagerly waited for the first time I would have no competition for the crusts. Laid out like a feast for one, all those wonderful corners...
Like a starving rat on pick up day, I roughly cut off all four sides and ate it in one sitting. The first side was pure heaven: rich, crunchy, caramelized goodness that I ate with my eyes closed, silently. The next side was still good. The third was greed. And the fourth was pure obstinacy. I had to eat it all. For the first time, I was not racing against time and opportunity for these pieces of valuable cake.
Ashwita and I meet infrequently now, but each time is refreshingly adult, well, sort of.
PS: Mom loves me best, thats why I have the recipe book.
At the end of that solo cake binge, I felt incomplete. Because although the cake was just as magical, the experience lacked something. Along with the contrast between the pillowy center and the crunchy corners, the act of eating it needed to be accompanied by the emotional soundtrack of sibling rivalry and comradery. I missed the experience of sitting down at the table with my sister, bantering as we negotiated our relationship through warm cake and conversation.
My sister lives in Australia now, teaching high school students, parenting an active 6-year-old and managing her menagerie of pets. Her life is full of new experiences. I am here, just about to graduate culinary school with a vast array of possibilities ahead of me. We have found new ways to negotiate our sisterhood, across distances, time zones, and our spaces in life, but we both will continue to let the other know when we make and eat Mom’s Carrot Cake, crust pieces first.
Mise en place: "Everything in its place." Or, in my world, the easiest way to lose points in a culinary kitchen class.
The Call-Your-Sister Cake
- Flour (AP or Wheat) - 2.5 cups
- Finely shredded carrots (try Danvers carrots) - 2.5 cups
- Sugar (granulated) - 2 cups
- Vanilla extract - 2 tsp
- Baking powder - 2 tsp
- Baking soda - 0.5 tsp
- Salt - 0.5 tsp
- Vegetable oil - 1.5 cups
- Eggs - 3 (lightly beaten) NOTE: For a vegan equivalent, substitute with 9 tbsp JUST eggs or your preferred vegan egg substitute.
- Milk - 0.5 cups NOTE: For a vegan equivalent, substitute with 0.5 cups of coconut or cashew milk.
- Preheat the oven to 340 F.
- Stir together all the dry ingredients and the shredded carrots.
- Add in the oil; stir to combine.
- Add the milk, the lightly beaten eggs, and mix until just combined.
- Pour into a lined 8" cake pan.
- Bake about 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center.
- Remember to eat this warm. And try to be fair about sharing the crusts.