Sunday, July 3, 2011

2 “Flaky on the outside and concrete on the inside.”

Deepak1, a friend's cook, made the most delicious parathas. They were light but chewy, flaky but not too, with just the right hint of butter.

I watched him carefully, did everything he did, and mine turned out like paving stones. This is not a joke, but a fact, and you could ask my American friend Commander who tried to eat one of my parathas.2

I think it has something to do with the amount of pressure applied when kneading and folding. A subtle change in that part of the process is the difference between delicious and doorstop.

Here you can see a popular online chef, Manjula, making parathas. Looks easy, right?

If you can’t master parathas, forget about mastering the chemical potion known as masala. Several thousand years of Indian cuisine have refined this mixture of many herbs and spices, which each cook personalizes. It looked like Deepak was putting a pinch of this and that in, recklessly, but his fingers seemed to know if that pinch had a grain too little or a grain too much.

Just think how much experimentation has gone into food over the millennia, and how many people never got credit for their innovations in the kitchen, and every area of life. Who realized you could drink the milk of a cow? How many people died eating poison berries before people figured out which ones were inedible? Who spoke the first real word? Who invented stairs?

Now we are proprietary about our ideas. Ideas have value and we’ve learned to monetize them, even though everyone steals ideas every day--a joke, a figure of speech, a concept, a recipe, a system.

When I watched the episode of 30 Rock where Jenna Maroney makes her own fake obit, I thought, “Hey, I did that over 20 years ago. I thought of it first.” Then I remembered that I got the idea from a guy named David Sager, who was Myron “Mike” Kandel’s producer at CNN. On a slow news day he decided to do a joke obit of Mike, our senior financial correspondent. He grabbed an idle crew and went out on the street to do some AOA3, also known as man on the street. CNN wasn’t well-known yet and David deliberately chose people who wouldn’t know Mike. He asked them what they thought about his death and cut the funniest comments, and puzzled looks, with Mike’s outtakes. The obit featured in the New York bureau Christmas reel. I told him, “David, I am going to steal this.” I stole some of David too, because I conflated him, another David and a guy named Alec into a character in my mystery series.

For all I know, David Sager stole that idea from someone else, perhaps a Journalism 101 professor (“Your first assignment is to write your own obituary”).4 I mixed it up differently, adding an idea from the Mary Tyler Moore show, where she and Rhoda get bored writing advance obituaries and write a fake one for a 90-something woman. It‘s mistakenly put in with the real obituaries, and before it’s caught the old woman dies and Ted Baxter reads it on the air. Where did the writers of MTM get the idea? Who invented the fake obituary?

1 Deepak from Nepal, not Deepak the bazaar tout.

2 "Flaky on the outside and concrete on the inside."

3 Any Old Asshole

4 "Sparkle Hayter, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic fueled only by sour mash sippin' whiskey, died today while attempting to climb Mount Everest. She was 96..."

Take a leap of faith: Reserve your copy of "Last Girl Standing" in advance.

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