November 5, 2010
Hey, did you know? Today’s Diwali.
The Hindu Festival of Lights is also celebrated by Sikhs & Jains, not to mention plenty of other Indian folks of various persuasions, and is my most-est favorite day of the year. As a kid, Diwali meant new clothes (it also marks the Hindu New Year), all of my favorite Indian foods, bright colors and smells, a house decorated with fresh flowers and fruits, and staying up late at our friends’ big party, lighting sparklers and fireworks in the backyard.
As an adult, Diwali has taken on so many additional layers of meaning that I’m not sure I can pull them all apart. Most obvious—it’s important to me to maintain the rituals of my childhood, to enact the practices passed down by my parents, to connect to something much bigger and more powerful than I could create on my own. Thousands of years of religion and culture, the place my family is from, the things we do because that’s what we do; I want to honor that.
At the same time, ritual for ritual’s sake has its limits. It’s just as important to me to feel or create ownership over the things I do, to know why I do them and to do them with intention. I’m blessed that my parents encouraged this when I was young, answering my questions about our religion, my heritage, and leaving plenty of room to put our nuclear family’s spin on tradition.
In that vein, the holiday has taken on a life of its own in my adulthood, in the family I share with Jill, and in our circle of wonderful friends. Today I am cleaning, cooking, thinking of my parents, threading fresh garlands for our home altar, singing the hymns I learned from my mother, lighting incense and willing my being to honor joy and express the profound gratitude I feel for the richness of life. Tomorrow night we’ll throw the fifth annual Carroll/Mehra Diwali party, our backyard swelling with people and food.
The story of Diwali is centered around a homecoming, that of the god Rama, who was in exile for many years, searching for his abducted wife and fighting against the forces of evil. According to our mythology, the night he returned, the villagers of Ayodhya lit his pathway with little oil lamps, now symbols of a holiday that celebrates the triumph of good over evil, the victory of light over dark.
On this holiday, I offer you this Indian-inspired (but distinctly Texan!) cookie, and I thank you who are reading this for being a light in my life. Happy Diwali!
CARDAMOM SHORTBREAD COOKIES
1 1/3 cup flour
¾ cup very-high-quality butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
1 T ground cardamom
½ tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. coarse Kosher salt (¼ tsp. if you substitute table salt)
optional: an egg + sanding or regular sugar for decorating
Using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, beat the butter & sugar together until blended. Mix in the vanilla, cardamom, & salt. Add the flour in a few additions, stirring until a soft dough just comes together.
Gather the dough into a large disk, wrap in plastic, & refrigerate for at least an hour. When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325˚.
Allow the dough to soften a bit before rolling it out to ¼” thickness. Cut out any shape your heart desires, placing the cut-out cookies on parchment-lined baking sheets.
(Optional: before baking, brush the cookies with a bit of egg wash (1 egg beaten & thinned with some water), then sprinkle with sugar.)
Bake cookies 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes before eating warm (with tea!) or cool completely to store in an airtight container.