Category: Stories & Photos

Meeting Alton Brown

You watch a show for eight years, remarking every single time how original and informative, smart and funny it is. You imgine it would be great to meet the talented person who made it. You would be urbane and sophisticated and crack an erudite joke or two. And then, pretty unexpectedly, you meet him. And all you think to say is…

“Hello, I’m Sharmila.”

The Bay Area Science Festival brought Alton Brown and his presentation “Ten Things About Food I Feel Pretty Sure About” to the Castro Theater last Saturday. Amidst the meandering crowds of the Castro, the weekend before Halloween, the queue weaved and heaved around the block starting early afternoon, hours before the presentation.

As the day turned to dusk and the lights of the neighbourhood got brighter, we started moving into the theater where we were met with a nice surprise. The inimitable Mr. Brown decided he was going to greet everyone attending the show at the door. We turned the corner and there he was meeting and greeting every single person. What a class act! But his being at the door in that fashion, it was surreal. My brain was so taken aback that it temporarily suspended all processing capabilities, as amply demonstrated above.
We were then ushered into the theater, which we had never been to before. What a gorgeous old-fashioned place. It reminded me of some of Bombay’s old art deco cinema theaters, on a much more cosy scale. The ramped seating ensures you have a very clear view. Bet it gives the code enforcers some nightmares though.
Look at that gorgeous ceiling!
Alton Brown came in some time before 7.00pm. He was sorry he couldn’t meet everybody. Apparently, there had been issues with ‘local colour’ outside the theater. “There are things I’ve seen today in San Francisco” he said, “that I never thought I’d see.”

It’s all part of San Francisco alluring charm, Mr. Brown. Or else this would be just like any other city.
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Halloween and a parade

Yesterday dawned grey and cloudy yesterday. But this city, it woke up to orange and black as far as the eye could see. Over a million people congregated around Market Street yesterday. You can bet no one in downtown San Francisco had any cell reception between the hours of 10.00 am to 1.00 pm, but the atmosphere was electric. A part of me was still worried about random, escalating violence. Fortunately, there wasn’t anything crazy. I guess the fact that it was morning helped with this. Still, there were a few that got way more excited than they should have.

People like these misguided souls who decided a 3Form bus shelter top was a strong enough surface to climb up on (“hello, bunch of architects here hollering for you to get off it if you value your life. Oh wait, you can’t here us from all the way across the street here, what with that obnoxious really loud speaker system blaring Journey’s ‘In the City’ on repeat.”) Or those other folk who decided to give those poor news van a structural integrity check.

Or this lady who hid when the news guy in the van had a conniption and yelled everyone off the truck. I wish I knew what happened to her, but I looked away too long. The next time I looked she was gone.

I’m as much of a baseball fan as I am a football fan (read: But I love parades.  And fireworks. And winning! *cough*cough* Where was I? Oh yes, I’m not a fan of the sport (or many sports) but I can appreciate how much training and work goes into winning these things. (I do really. What I lack for in enthusiasm is more than made up for by Amey. He’s a huge fan. I’ve learned more about baseball than I ever wanted to know. Any gaps he’s left in my education are filled by equally fanatical colleagues.) So well done Giants! I was there to cheer along with the real, die-hard fans.

Even though some of them took it too far, I think. That poor, stuffed tiger!

But look how beautiful the dragon was.
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A thousand words…

…couldn’t begin to cover everything that’s gone on in my time away from this space. This place, where I’ve captured little snippets of our life and most of my culinary galvanization. I don’t use that word loosely. To get me into the kitchen these days takes inciting events. Events that cause transformation from culinary inertia to motion. Like reading Tender, Nigel Slater’s compelling treatise on the growing of fruits and vegetables and the value of good produce. (I started cooking a gratin of chard and shallots at four in the morning after reading Volume 1 through the night). Or the geeky joy of putting to use my steel grey 5 quart KitchenAid Architect. I’ve been drooling over it forever but have been loathe to give up precious counter space to it. But a slight tragedy with a lovely gift from our friends Sanjeev and Vandana made me take the inevitable plunge. (The tragedy involved a red soda maker and some leaky orange flavouring. The carnage was terrible, but the outcome, super sweet.)

Of course we haven’t been living on fast food and fresh air for half a year. (Don’t panic, Mom). There has been just enough cooking in our kitchen, sufficient to anchor soul to body. The kind of cooking that provides nourishment at a hectic time, so you can move to the next day and do what you did today all over again without losing your mind. Our stove has seen a ton of our mothers’ recipes, because we miss our moms and this is the closest we can get to their incredible cooking and tender caring. There have been soups and curries and more cookies than I care to admit. I just haven’t been able to tell you much about them because my brain has stolidly refused to produce cogent thoughts on the matter. And Amey has been too exhausted to pick up his camera.

2010 and 2011 have been very busy with work, for which we are grateful, but also a bit exhausted. We hope 2012 will allow us more of a balance and we realize that really is up to us. So with that end in mind, we’ve consciously begun spending some time each weekend in clearing the mind and unplugging from the errata of daily affairs.

San Francisco is the best city in the world for getting away without actually leaving.

It has all the accoutrements of a big city…

But it has the soul of an island getaway

There are little surprises to be in found in every neighbourhood
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How does your garden grow? |The Urban Garden Journal

It all began with a few hot little chilli seeds gone to pot two years ago. In that cute green glazed terracotta pot on the shallow ledge of a window sill.

We fell so in love with that pot that we invited two more over so it wouldn’t be lonely.  We planted a little rosemary plant in one and sage in another so that, you know,  they’d feel like they were there for more important reasons. All three of them perched precariously on the window sill of our struggling-to-be-30 sq.ft  kitchen. An earthquake of three-point-niner along the right fault might have sent them tumbling into the sink but fortunately that didn’t come. We loved to watch the shy little chilli raise its leaves to the sun or the rosemary swish in an errant breeze through an open window. its scent pervading through the dish-rack. Amey surreptitiously poured tea water into the plants while I wasn’t looking. (I hate the idea of tea staining my lovely cream-coloured window ledge. Little did I know that stains of all sorts are part of plants-perched-on-your-sill territory.) The plants thrived modestly in the greenhouse type situation that the glass window and sink helped create.

Then a year ago, we moved. We were presented with an unkempt backyard, overgrown with a rambling border of brambles. Awful for plant beds, but just begging for container gardening. Striving for self-control we both lacked, we told ourselves we wouldn’t try anything too ambitious. Just some basil and oregano to go along with the sage, chilli and thyme and a couple of flowering perennials for colour along with a gorgeous fuchsia. Tough, hardy plants that I figured would survive my clumsy attempts at killing them. True enough, all we had to give them was some well-drained soil and water and they were quite happy.

Until the first winter arrived. Based on some loose internet research, we figured all the plants would survive our relatively mild – no frost or snow – NorCal winter. The rain, we assured ourselves, would be a good thing. Turns out there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

The rosemary soldiered on and the sage acknowledged the winter by shedding a few leaves. The fuchsia shed all flowers and became a shade of its former self. The chilli plant with which it all began, however, withered away to a dull, green stem. We fervently hoped it would revive in spring but turns out that it didn’t. By early May this year, we had to agree that it was now just a stick in a pot. By all rights, it had determinedly struggled to have a life in some remarkably adverse conditions. (On an unrelated note, so has this blog, but fortunately its survival is more in my control. I’m doubly determined to hang on to it.)

Fortunately, we’d saved some seeds off its last harvest so we planted those. Come spring, the modest rosemary and sage took off like rockets. Our inner ambitious gardeners had completely taken over by now and manifested in a wondering of what else we could plant. Fortunately, the friendly and knowledgeable plant selling folk at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market had plenty of helpful ideas for novice gardeners. I’m now the proud keeper of a burgeoning garden, which I’m dying to talk about; which is why this is the start of a small series of posts devoted to my garden.

As of early April this year, here’s what was happening in the urban garden
(hover over any of the images below to learn know about the subject)

Rest in peace
Indian Chilli (aka The Cheeky Chilli plant) *sob*

Thriving original residents:
Lemon Thyme

Happy new residents:
St. Pierre tomato
Sweet 100 Cherry Tomato
Cayenne Pepper
Red Bell Pepper (Capsicum)
Habenero pepper
English Thyme
Lemon Verbena
Dill Mint
Tea roses


In the garden but still to join the party:


Stay tuned for further updates from the Urban Garden!