Good causes

A couple of Saturdays ago we went to the annual Clam Chowder Cook-off in Santa Cruz (benefits the Santa Cruz Parks & Recreation Dept.) and then the annual Mardi Gras fundraising party for the Mountain View Library. All on the same day.

I’d been meaning to go the library Mardi Gras for the past couple of years, but never did until this year. The idea of drinking, eating AND dancing in the library, where on a normal day, they only permitted bottled water and no cellphones, was irresistible. It was actually a lot of fun: two live bands, copious amounts of Cajun food, and very virile Hurricanes.

People came dressed up, or in costume, a lady sheriff with her husband the prisoner in stripes . . . and handcuffs. An energetic lady in wonderful sparkling olive green tights (“99 cents at Longs!”) came around with a flyer plugging a Taylor Eigsti concert at Los Altos HS to raise funds for a local community organization on March 13. $30 a ticket, but hey it was all tax-deductible, and it saved us a long drive to Yoshi’s or SF. Sure why not.

Last night we left the house at about 7, figured we didn’t have time for a real sit-down meal before the concert, but could get a quick bite. “We could go to the pupuseria” said Joe, since he hadn’t tried it.

This particular pupuseria is in a strip mall on El Camino, anchored by Cost Plus. When you’re driving by, the sign says “Donuts”, but if you happen to walk by the door, the sign says “Pupusas Salvadorean.” They have both. We discovered it when we walked past it after dining at Mazeh (our new favourite Mediterranean/Middle Eastern place).

Pupusas are a stuffed pancake (like a quesadilla or the northern Chinese chong yow bing/onion pancake.) They are filled with cheese, pork, veggies or combinations thereof. But what really elevates them are the lightly pickled shredded cabbage and carrots, like a cole slaw without the creamy element, or like the Thai achart without the chilies. Achart is served with fried fishcakes or satay in Thailand: the sour, sweet, salty and crunch-freshness is a great counterpoint to the fry-greasiness. The Salvadorean slaw does likewise with pupusas. You’d be missing the point, if you ate pupusas without the pickles. Most people also know to get pupusas at La Bamba on Old Middlefield.

We ordered at the counter (displaying all the folorn donuts unsold) and paid. The cheerful young lady didn’t speak any English. For the second time in a week, I trotted out my Spanish, which was good practice for me. (On Tuesday, I had been at a public meeting in East San Jose to get community input on the long-range transportation plan update.)

We sat down, and then I noticed there were several other tables with customers, who looked like they’d been sitting there a while, and their food hadn’t arrived. I had a feeling it was going to be slow. There were signs of another woman back in the kitchen cooking.

Half an hour later, I finished scanning the San Jose Metro. Our food hadn’t arrived. We were used to simple meals with slow arrival times, but that had been in small-town India, where they were probably cooking on a charcoal/dung stove with one ‘burner.’ Perhaps they were making the pupusas from scratch?

I was anxious. I hate being late for concerts (subject of a future blog entry). Truth be told, I was also a little grumpy, because my allergies had decided to kick in (I’d spent most of the day outside, repotting plants), and my nose was running a marathon. Should we leave? “But we’ve paid already,” reasoned Joe. “Ahorrita,” the senorita assured us, when we told her we had an 8 PM concert. For good measure we gestured at the clock and at our watches.

Five minutes later, I told Joe “Let’s just go. It’s not like we can’t afford to write off the cost of a few pupusas as a subsidy to a local, independent, mom-and- pop business run by immigrants in search of the American dream.”
Joe took one look at me and knew there was changing my mind. Poor Joe, he’d been hungrier than I was. We walked out, oddly enough, feeling more embarrassed than upset.

I’d seen Taylor Eigsti a few years ago at one of the free concerts at Stanford Shopping Center, when he was still in high school, labeled a prodigy. Now he’s in college. His trio put on a good concert.

Eigsti pounded out a good rendition of “Love for Sale.” Not only his fingers, but his whole body danced with the 700-lb instrument. If I knew then what I know now, that there is life out there in pianoland beyond sitting stiffly playing sedate nursery tunes, perhaps I might not have quit lessons so soon. But I was only six.

In the row in front of was a family of mom, dad and two young boys. To their credit, the two boys didn’t mar the concert for me at all, but you had to feel sorry for them, being forced to sit through a long concert with no bass and little visual interest. The dad fell asleep, and the mom had had to shush them a couple of times.

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