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: not.at.all). 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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Pumpkin & Brinjal (Eggplant) Stew

It started out so well. The city enjoyed a bright and sunny weekend. Blue skies; gorgeous golden light. Away from home, the SF Giants swept the World series last evening.

Then came the night. It all went to hell pretty quickly.

Reports started to emerge of “Celebration rioting” across various neighbourhoods in the city. People tweeting about fires and getting hit in the face with beer cans. Rabid fans trashing cars and dumpsters and public transport. People aggressively searching for fights in the street, looking to trash anyone who didn’t look as jazzed about the win as they were.

I come from a country where rioting expresses public outrage. The frustrations of living in a country with many races, vast economic differences smoulder just beneath the surface. It takes but one unhappy spark to ignite the tinderbox. Riots occur as an outlet, when the common man is past endurance, out of fear and unhappiness. They stem from anger and long-seeded frustrations. When one is unhappy, one lashes out at anything for any reason. You want the world to feel your pain.

Why would anyone riot as an act of celebration? Wouldn’t happiness want to spread with acts of kindness and generosity? Why should happiness be so destructive? I can find no explanation.

The next morning dawned cold and grey. Gone was the sunshine of the weekend. The city seemed moody, as if confused by the conflict. The news of the East Coast hunkering down for one of the biggest storms possible did nothing to alleviate the nameless fears that had held me captive in my nightmares the previous night. As the day wore on, the storm began wrecking havoc along the coast. I prayed for friends and family on there, wishing them cover and warmth. I looked to Twitter for updates, hoping all was well. That was a mistake.

As great as social networks are, misinformation abounds. At times like this, for someone who is already terrified and powerless to help, too much information just feeds the fear. Then there are those clueless or callous few who just don’t know when to keep away from social networks. And there are others who are just waiting to heap scathing vitriol on such pitiable fools. Retweet after retweet, cursing each other out.

Few take the high road anymore. Few focus their abundant energies mainly on prayer and faith that those they care about will pull through. Precious few are concerned about curbing their negativity instead of putting it out there in the world in a time of crisis. In the real world, people were irritated and tense today. It is like the fog has taken a grip on our collective psyche.

My mind, it had had enough. I left work when the day was done and took a few long, deep calming breaths. I focused my thoughts on the few good interactions of the day, on good advice from a trusted colleague, on smiling compliments from another, forcing myself to forget all other unworthy exchanges. As I stepped off the bus and walked home, the mist hung low and clung to me like a cloak, threatening to wrap the dread around me once more.

Then I heard it. A joyous sound. The uninhibited laughter of a gaggle of children.

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Minty Coconut Burfi with pistachios

The erstwhile cutest kid on the planet turned 18 this month. The year that marks adulthood. But to me, he’ll always be the kid who gave hugs on demand, loved Speed Racer and Winnie the Pooh, and waited for the moment I stepped out of the room to climb on top of my drafting table and add orange smiley faces, blue flowers and purple grass on my architecture school work sheets. Got to love a kid who leaves you smiley faces with oblivious equanimity, but it was only because he was so cute and cuddly (and because his other aunt had me in a death grip) that he survived.

This kid had a sweet tooth the size of Kentucky. His love of all things sweet has not waned at all through his teenage years. I love when he comes to visit as it gives me license to have honeyed somethings in the house all the time. I made him brownies when he was last here. And now, as Diwali is nearing, when I miss my family more than ever, I’m thinking of him and how much he loved the festival and was frightened by it in equal measure.

Every year at Diwali, mom made the traditional faral. This made our little guy very happy. One of the first things he learned to do a year after he was walking was make his way to the kitchen and pull on my mom’s pallu while asking for a laddoo or pedha. He’d insist on a piece for each hand and then scamper away to his toys. He talked to the toy dog and little bear and you could see he was torn between eating the sweets himself and trying to feed them to his toy partners. The toys never got to them though because, after much cajoling, he ended up handing at least one piece over to a hungry aunt. Then the firecrackers would start going off all around the neighbourhood. The loud ones scared him, and made him cry. That’s when more sweets would be produced to calm the fright. Yes, he made those festivals memorable.
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Spiced Coconut & Cashew Chicken

Conventional wisdom about entertaining at home indicates that practice is key to being a successful cook and host. There are unending volumes written on the subject filled with well-heeled advice that stress on planning menus, organizing your ingredients and having practice runs well in advance of the big event. They especially espouse caution when trying out new recipes. There is talk of the importance of being a relaxed host or hostess, and how you are unlikely to be one if you have been channeling the Road Runner right up the moment your guests arrive. All this running around is simply not done, they tell us earnestly.

Do you do everything you are told? Yeah, me neither. I used to, once, a long time ago. Back then, there was an implied threat of getting rid of reading time. But now? There isn’t a chance in hell I’ll do what I’m told. No way, no how.

That’s right. I listen to own tune, chart my course, pave my road. I’m a rebel, baby!!

Sigh. Who am I kidding? Let me proceed to ruin that rather defiant impression I just painted of myself with this carefully annotated bullet-point list…
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