A priest, a rabbi and an architect walk into a television studio. Sounds like the setup to a joke, no? In my case, a few months ago, it was a day in the life.
The television studio in question was the KQED Studio in San Francisco. The show was Check Please Bay Area. This is a show where regular folk argue over their favourite restaurants. I was told I needed to be on this show since I spend a good portion of my waking hours arguing about restaurants anyway. I’m glad I tried out. Despite my initial trepidation, it turned out to be a fun experience. And guess what, it turns out I’m not a complete muppet on television.
Check Please is in its seventh season in the Bay area. You fill out the questionnaire and recommend three restaurants you would like to talk about along with some information about yourself. If they like what they see, the lovely folk producing the show give you a call and set up an interview. If you’re selected, you then get a packet with the three restaurants you are required to review a month or so prior to the taping of the show.
I walked into the studio a bit sleep deprived on that July afternoon. I’d sent in my written restaurant reviews already but had forgotten a good deal about them so tried to cram while the lovely make up lady tried to make me look presentable. We each individually met with the show’s lively host Leslie Sbrocco where she did her best to put us at ease. The show was recorded without any rehearsal in a short time.
Do you find yourself talking back to your television? Amey does when he’s yelling at sports team for fouling a pitch or making an awesome catch. (Two different games. He’s all over the map with sports love.) I used to find it cute in a you’re-so-dorky-and-I-love-you-but-you-will-never-see-me-do-that kind of way. I would laugh and then carry on with the reading a book, Twitter feed, whatever was at hand. (He watches sports. I sit next to him and pretend to care because I love him. That’s our deal. Also, the rocking chair in the living room is the comfy-est seat in the house.)
They say couples take on each others personalities eventually. This was brought home to me in stark reality when I found myself doing exactly what he does. I was watching this cooking show on TV. The chef/host made a meatloaf and gravy with lavish attention, then added a vegetable side. It all looked real pretty when it landed in that platter. But the veggies? They had just been boiled in salted water and were then given the mandatory grinding of black pepper when they were served up. I found myself jumping up out of that rocking chair and yelling, “What the heck is up with that?!”
The holiday season is approaching fast. Diwali, my favourite festival is fast approaching. In India, this means the thorough cleaning of houses and frantic preparation of sweets in time for the first day of the festival of lights. In households everywhere, there are sweets being readied for the annual Diwali exchange, when neighbours send each other the best of the season along with plates full of good things. These freshly home-made sweets and snacks are also the traditional way to greet friends and family that drop in to wish you.
Every year while my mom prepared the sweet stuff, she also made traditional Maharashtrian poha chivda. If I was to try to define chivda, I’d call it a savoury rice based trail mix-type snack. Its main component is poha or flattened rice. You can find thick and thin varieties of poha. What you are looking for here is the thin variety. You can find this easily at your friendly neighbourhood Indian store. You will also find copra or dried coconut slices there. This is responsible for the characteristic flavour of chivda. I start with raw peanuts because they get imbued with the flavour of the garlic, coconut and spice better through the cooking process. Daliya or roasted chana dal brings its own unique nuttiness to the mixture.
I was the poster child for introverted, preferring always the company of the imaginary characters in my books and looking for a quiet room to read in for them to come to life. Celebrations like festivals, weddings, pujas generally placed me squarely out of my element. I would have liked nothing better than to have been left out of all of them entirely. Inventions of fictitious homework and illnesses only went so far before my mother made it her life’s mission to make me a bit more sociable. I grabbed a couple of books and resignedly went along, consoling myself with the thought that at least there would be fancy ‘celebration’ food.
All Indian events have two things in common. The first is people. Hordes of people. Uncles and aunties coming out of the woodwork. Extended family, family friends from distant places, people you only see at these functions, who come up to you and pinch your cheeks and ask you if you remembered them. There were women dressed to the nines in Kanjeevarams and Paithanis and Benarasis, the glorious sheen of the heavy silks competing only with the sparkle of the gold & diamond jewellery. They would bustle about, sharing the gossip of absent friends and neighbours as one does in rare meetings. Laughter and lilting voices rose from tightly scattered groups. The scent of the rajnigandha would fill the air vying for attention with jasmine perfume and the redolent waves of spice. My nose followed that spice to where the warming bowls stood lined up on the buffet.