Sunday, August 31, 2008

EAT: "Simply the Best".. Part 2: Crispy Okra Salad

It's been a while since part 1 of Simply the Best - my personal collection of most unique and special dishes - but jetlagged and bright awake at 4:45am I finally have the time to finish an entry that was started a long time ago - second installment of Simply the Best. So, for part 2, I am featuring crispy okra salad, Kararee Bhindi, at Dévi restaurant (website, NY Mag, map, one of my top 3 Indian restaurants btw), a recipe created by the restaurant's chef and owner Suvir Saran. It's uniqueness stems from the fact the it takes a fairly uncommon vegetable (by my standards at least) and uses it is in an unexpected way - fried - in combination with yummy Indian spices. It makes you go "who knew?". The second reason why it is perfect for being shared on this list is that despite its uniqueness and supreme yumhood, it is surprisingly easy to make - as I recently found out when I needed something to do with a pound of okra I got in Chinatown (for 50c!!). Here's a link to the recipe on Suvir's site. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

PLAY: Last Set + I Found the Place Where I Will Get Married

So here's the final set of photographic highlights from my Asian trip. It includes photos I took in Nusa Dua (a lifeless resort town about 20km from Seminyak, my village, where I biked on Thursday), Jimbaran (another resort center, this one fully gated and basically spread over a hill on top of Jimbaran Bay with insane views - hence the wedding reference above), and a visit to Tokyo's Tsukiji market - apparently the largest fish market in the world (I had a 12 hour layover on my way back).

All in all an amazing trip though ironically the highlights for me where the 2 short-ish stops in Tokyo.. which I guess is simply a reflection of the fact that I am such a city person and that I am obsessed with Japan (something I didn't quite realize beforehand) even if Japan isn't particularly fond of me (here I am referring to the fact that it is not particularly foreigner-friendly - let alone vegan-friendly - both of which I actually respected in a weird way). There were obviously many nice and impressive things in Bali but much of it is either (1) the downunder take on Cancun, with American frat boys replaced by Australian surfers (2) dirty and neglected, including the historical sites and buildings.. but that could be the ignorant Western snob in me speaking, who knows.

Anyhow, enough of my rambling. I am back in the city, it's 3am and I am exhausted after 18 hours of travelling but I am technically on 3pm in the afternoon so I am far from sleepy. Here's the final preview set..

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

PLAY: Second Update from Interior Design Central

Finally I had the time and energy last night to upload and sort out some of the photos I have been taking. 2 full days have passed since my last entry - first of which I spent walking around my village, bumming on the beach and then having dinner at the officially hip KuDeTa (certified by the fact that it has its own soundtrack of electronic lounge music - all three volumes of it!) - the chef crafted a bunch of outstanding veggie dishes off the menu - after which I barely had enough wind in my sails to walk back to my hotel before passing out. Today I did a mini tour to Ubud, the art and cultural capital of the island, with a stop at the elephant cave and the monkey forest. Finally some serious flora and fauna a.k.a. photo opportunities galore. Since I woke up at 2:30am yesterday morning (possibly the most ridiculous jet lag I've ever had - on the bright side it gave me a chance to watch CNN for 5 hours and catch up on all the DNC stuff and my favorite op-eds, yay!), I spent the 2nd half of the day glued on the beach until it was time for dinner - this one at Chandi - modern Indonesian cuisine run by a guy who worked at a bunch of NYC restaurants.. lot of tempe and tofu, peanut and tamarind sauce, mango and papaya in everything, oh so delicious.. not to mention yumy ginger cocktails :)

On a different note, I have been reading the book Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali - and the woman is seriously amazing. She was raised in a strict Muslim family only to escape to the Netherlands, denounce Islam, become an MP, and then had have her citizenship taken away when she became too controversial even for the Dutch after she wrote the script that was made into a movie Submission by Theo van Gogh who was assassinated for making it. Not exactly a fluffy beach read, but so interesting.

Lastly, speaking of the Convention, what a joke. Reading today's columns from Dowd and Friedman side by side, I can't help but feel like the Democrats are so unduly obsessed with themselves and - to use a severly overused term - "out of touch" in a world where there are so many much more pressing problems.. Anyway, at least they finally nominated Obama, Hillary did her long awaited speech (which I have yet to see), Bill wraps it up tonight, hopefully not producing any juicy material for the networks to obsess about, and we can move on from the silly theatrics.

Monday, August 25, 2008

PLAY: Sitting on the Balcony

After what seemed like 3 days of travel (but was only 18 hours, net, plus 24 hours for crossing the date line, a concept which I still find mind boggling, and a 28 hour layover in Tokyo..) I am finally in Bali, sitting on the balcony of my hotel listening to the ocean. I am so tired that I could paint clouds with melatonin yet the excitement of the being here - and a jet lag of epic proportions - is keeping me wide awake at 4am.. perhaps I will just stay up until sun rise / breakfast and then pass out in the sun? Tough decisions..

2 notables so far along with this first greeting:

1. Japan is amazing and definitely worth a longer trip. Just getting on to the Japan Airlines flight at JFK I felt like I was transported into another universe, one characterized by incredible politeness, insane precision, over the top service and unending obsession with fashion. It was almost challenging for me to play along with all the acts of kindness but in a sense it was a good way to break my mindset away from New York for the week. Of course, the real downside of it all is the omnipresent lost-in-translation feeling.. or actually lack of translation, since almost no one speaks English and relying on figuring things out on your own is difficult when most things are written in Japanese - like ATM instructions.. imagine trying to take the subway with no Yen, no idea which line to take, how much the ticket is.. long story short - I didn't - instead I browsed the nearby mall (there always seems to be one nearby! - it was packed at 10:30pm on a Sunday - hence the unending obsession with fashion) and then walked back to the hotel in pouring rain with no umbrella (which I can't buy because - remember - I have no Yen or no idea how to withdraw money and the convenience store lady doesn't seem to like the idea of accepting amex.. or the $20 I offered her)! Even funnier were the communication adventures in the hair salon.. but the cut turned out sort of OK (with one hour left in Tokyo I decided that rather than getting even more lost and risking missing the bus to the airport I may as well get a haircut.. a souvenir of sorts).

2. After settling in to the hotel here, I decided I need to go out and explore and maybe get a drink and some food.. Imagine my surprise when the only thing going at 2am was a gay bar. No, I didn't go in.. something about me set off a strange response from the crowd - I can't tell what they were shouting and whether it was good but I definitely attracted attention. Then as I walked back to the hotel, a guy, could have been 20 years old maybe, drove by on a motorcycle and first asked me if I needed a lift and then delivered an indecent proposal.. It took me all of an hour to be at this place before getting harassed. The good news is it was all very harmless and he retreated almost immediately when I said "no, thanks!". OK fine, I had to say it twice. But I suppose it wasn't threatening.

Anyway, so much for now.. check out a mini preview of my trip so far here. I am going in because the damn mosquitoes are eating me alive..

Friday, August 22, 2008

PLAY: The Good Things in Life

Yesterday was another pleasantly warm and sunny day in New York and by 4pm everyone has found some pressing reason to end the day early. Perfectly fine by me. It was exactly a year ago that the financial markets blew up and the economy started melting even more apparently than it was until then. That horrible August was a period of such nauseating volatility that I used to come home with immense pain in my stomach and drink my most recent alcoholic discovery of that period - St. Germain - elderflower liquor.. Hmm, it was great with vodka.. and champagne.. Things have stayed pretty much just as insane since then (with the only fortunate twist being that I rid myself of the at-home weeknight drinking habit) .. that is, until this week. Finally things quieted down, one boss went on vacation, the other one had a baby, half the office is gone and in an unusual conincidence it was also a week with the most incredible weather.. all in all, I caught myself thinking at some point that this may almost be better than going on vacation! OK perhaps that's an exaggeration. ANYWAY -- last night was another amazing night in Brooklyn - I went to see the movie by the bridge .. Not my first time but it has been a while. So there I was, surrounded by attractive neatly dirty hipsters and other movie-watching folk, wondering how the night could be any better. Nice things in life come in heeps, I thought to myself, after the guy staffing the Transportation Alternatives desk (they provide free bike parking at the event) complimented me on my hat, gave me smile and asked me to leave my email to sign up for their newsletter.. Perhaps he will find some better use for my email address? Good stuff in life comes in bunches , I think to myself again, wishfully..

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

PLAY: Dinner at Alma or Ode to Sunset

Last night, I went to Alma in Red Hook with Cenk and his sister who is visiting from Turkey. The place has hands down the best views of downtown Manhattan. Here's a little slide show of the restaurant, the views and the ridiculous sunset. Check out the cool new script I laborously figured out to display photos on the blog.

The whole photoset is here.

READ: Cause vs Cure

Today's article from Friedman is insightful in highlighting how US foreign policy along with NATO expansion created an important backdrop to the current situation in Russia. Fair point. Making Russians feel isolated, humiliated and, um, like losers of the Cold War was probably a bad idea. I remember the debates we had in high school about the nascent NATO expansion. I don't even remember what I actually believed in - as a true debater, probably nothing and both. But the argument that the expansion of NATO would reaffirm the dual-power vision of the world that the end of Cold War was hoped to bring to an end was definitely out there. Well, I guess now we know - or so Friedman believes.

I am very conflicted, however, if identifying the cause tell us anything about the potential cure. Can we reverse engineer ourselves out of this? I am entirely confused by what he suggests: "we would be wise to reconsider where our NATO/Russia policy is taking us — and whether we really want to spend the 21st century containing Russia the same way we spent much of the 20th containing the Soviet Union." Reconsider, sure.. I just don't how helpful recognizing the mistakes made since 1989 can be in solving the problems in Russia of 2008.

On an entirely different note, close to home, after seeing enough footage from the Saturday night interviews at the Saddleback forum I was able to fully appreciate Hendrik Hertzberg's blog entry about the convos. I agree with his assessment that McCain came out on top. Watching snippets of the 2 side by side it was obvious which one the average citizen can connect more with. But ultimately I don't think it changed much for either candidate, which I perceive as a greater loss for Obama. He had more to gain and he didn't.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

PLAY: My Summer Soundtrack

Something fluffy as promised..

What has been filling my ears this summer when I can't take another true but depressing podcast from Democracy Now! or I have gone through all the other spoken word material that I periodically download (This American Life, Slate's Political Gabfest, Vegan Freak Radio, Food for Thought.. I couldn't help but give all those a shout out!)?

Mercy - Duffy
Lay All Your Love on Me - Dominic Cooper & Amanda Seyfried
American Boy - Estelle Feat. Kayne West
Give it 2 Me - Madonna
Touch My Body - Mariah Carey
Calabria 2007 - Enur
Starry Eyed Surprise - Paul Oakenfold
Into the Night Life - Cyndi Lauper
Rise Up - Yves Larock
Crimewave - Crystal Castles vs. Health
Radar - Britney Spears
Valeria - Mark Ronson Feat. Amy Winehouse
Enjoy - Janet
Keep on Rising - Ian Carey Feat. Michelle Shellers
No Stress - Laurent Wolf
Relax, Take It Easy - MIKA
Love Today - MIKA
Kids - MGMT
Shut Up and Let Me Go - The Ting Tings
Whine Up - Kat DeLuna Feat. Elephant Man

And the following albums:
Dying to Say This to You - The Sounds
Life in Cartoon Motion - MIKA
We Started Nothing - The Ting Tings
Oracular Spectacular - MGMT
Mamma Mia! Soundtrack
We The Vehicles - Maritime

Thanks to everyone who has responded to my request for summer songs for to my friend Brian who knows just what to do when given free reign over my iTunes account!

Friday, August 15, 2008

READ: I Don't Want to Believe

After the last two posts I really wanted to write about something fun, light and fluffy. A new recipe maybe, perhaps post some photos. I really did. Alas, not today.. and for this I have no one else to blame but Krugman, the little glass-half-empty devil, and his column in the Times today. I know, it's the second time this week that his column has inspired an entry on this blog.. at least the first one was somewhat hopeful and inspiring - this one is pure doom and gloom.

As an aside, the significance of the columnist to me is best exemplified by a piece he published a little over a year ago in which he predicted that the financial mess we're in now will be profound and long-lasting. That prediction turned out to be spot on. Similarly, before anyone was talking about the food crisis and its root causes, he put out this op-ed.

So it was quite unnerving to read his column today about the world before WW1 and the omen that the conflict in Georgia could be. Then I searched through my aging brain - and Google - to remember that WW1 also started quite randomly - a bunch of terrorists assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Suddenly, South Ossetia gained a whole new dimension. Of course the assassination was just a spark and what mattered was the backdrop of wide spread tensions.. which, wait!, sounds vaguely familiar. I close my eyes and repeat: "Happy thoughts! Happy thoughts!"

PS1: In response to the previous entry, a friend sent me a link to this article in The Moscow Times. Interesting perspective, given what we have heard from the media in the US (The situation looks even more complex when viewed from a global context. It would seem that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili won the first days of the war thanks to some heavy doses of propaganda. The West surely helped Saakashvili out when it did not condemn his ruthless attack and civilian casualties. Instead, almost all of the Western news agencies began their reports from South Ossetia with the words, "Russian tanks invade Georgia.").

PS2: To take the edge off from Krugman, at least temporarily, I appease myself by reading this. That is, until I realize that most stuff he's being criticized for in the 2003 article was actually proven right by now. Crap.

PS3: The next entry will be EAT or PLAY, if I have to fabricate a fabulous restaurant opening or some unexpected way to make hummus. Promise!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

READ: Denial, Closure and Moving on

I have long wondered if the desire to expose the truth about what actually happened in the lead up to the war in Iraq (for reasons ranging from simply setting the historical record straight all the way to actually prosecuting those responsible) will ever defeat the overwhelming desire to simply erase what happened and move on. Now that the Iraq war is one of the reasons why the US can't afford to take a meaningful stand against Russia apparent attempt at 1968 part II - the invasion of Georgia - not to mention a meaningful drain of the US budgetary resources with a whole parade of related consequences - there may be some appetite to examine its origins. And voilà! A new book by Ron Suskind "The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism" presents a case that the adminstration ordered the CIA to forge documentation proving a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. For an interview with the author, check out yesterday's Democracy Now! edition here (also available as a podcast on iTunes - what I consider my daily dose of sanity in this otherwise insane world). What is more, almost surprisingly, the Senate and the House take up the issue, largely thanks to my pal, Dennis K. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 11, 2008

READ: Why Elections Rock!

As the years that separate me from the glorious days on the high school debate team have accumulated, the frequency of thinking and arguing about fundamental issues has dropped sharply. Ironically, despite being one of the most cultured and diverse melting pots on the planet, the social life in New York is not particularly designed to encourage discourse, at least in my experience. We all work hard and in the little spare time we have we want to have fun, a concept that for a quarter-aged gay male typically favors drinking in a bar full of beautiful strangers in place of discussing the broken healthcare system or the merits and drawbacks of big government. Besides, as one gets increasingly accustomed to - or perhaps comfortable in - the way the world operates, the urge to question is muted as is the perceived ability to do anything with the entrenched status quo. Sometimes I nostalgically look at the pictures of the long-haired Hair-singing Kerouac-reading teenager from Slovakia and wonder: "What happened?" (The answer lies, roughly speaking, here.. and here, here, here and here.)

Which is why it is refreshing to have the elections as a reason (or an excuse) to once again think, discuss and opine - to believe that how we vote can actually change how we live (not that I can vote, but I can certainly discuss and opine enough to more than compensate!). It is all the more frustrating when, given all the great pressing issues of the world we live in, gas prices are the only one that seems to be getting significant attention from the news media and the presidential candidates. Sure, it is an important issue that affects this country in more than one way, and naturally, it gets acute attention from everyone who doesn't live in Manhattan, because it is so present in people's everyday life and the choices they make. However, the attention it draws in the context of the election seems undue for two reasons: (1) Neither candidate can do much about it and it is questionable whether one would do anything dramatically different from the other especially as the grinding machine of the campaigning process is slowly blending their "solutions" via multiple double-sided flip-flops into one big gassy mess. (2) Every other issue seems to be pushed to the side, in particular issues where the candidates could actually take positions that differentiate them from one another. And they are different - and not just in age, race and height; they just don't talk about it a whole lot.

Which brings me to Krugman, the man who made my day by once again highlighting an issue that I think does not hit the radar often enough given how important it is. In his op-ed in NY Times today he talks about the likelihood of healthcare reform. It is, in my opinion, one of the most fundamental questions that this country has to face, for a variety of reasons which I do not want to get into right now. The point is it's not an issue that is sexy, it doesn't affect everyone every day and therefore it needs disciples who will keep it alive and somewhere close to the forefront. And I think the challenge for us, readers, citizens, voters (however pompous that may sound!) is to adopt an orphan issue, one that is important yet neglected and to try to understand it inside out, because when the candidates talk, the only way to know a difference between them and to see who gets it is to get it on your own.

PS: Incidentally, with regards to healthcare, Obama may mean well but Clinton had him dominated on the issue - a point that probably escaped those who do not pay much attention to it or do not care. Ironically, now that the contrast on real issues between the candidates should be ever more vivid, people are seemingly falling back on abstract proxies for success like "experience" and "comfort", or at least that is the conclusion that some draw from the closing gap between the two candidates. Now, if ever, is the time to read the blue print.

Friday, August 8, 2008

PLAY: Your Own Summer Song

What is the song that will remind you of this summer when it comes on in your iPod as you're listening on shuffle next December?

NY Mag "Umbrella" Watch

Thursday, August 7, 2008

PLAY/(EAT?): Chinatown - Don't Ask / Don't Tell

It may sound almost like a cliché but one of the reasons to love this city is unquestionably how suddenly you can find yourself in a completely different world. One moment you're in Soho, admiring $450 sunglasses in Ilori; a short walk later, you're in Chinatown walking by buckets of mysterious creatures at various points of the life-death continuum. The vegan in me shivers; the photographer holds the vegan's nose and takes pictures furiously. Who the hell knew crabs were so colorful?

Monday, August 4, 2008

PLAY: The Waterfalls

As I was walking and biking around the city this weekend I captured the waterfalls from a few different spots and angles. According to the artist's statement, the purpose of the waterfalls is to encourage people to "identify more with the waterfront of New York City" and to offer "an intimate and intellectually challenging experience to the people visiting the sites along the waterfront". While I am generally underwhelmed by the waterfalls - rather than majestic, I find the structures a bit awkward and the water flow too thin to impress - I have to give the artist credit for dragging New Yorkers and tourist out into venues they would otherwise be unlikely to go to with some astonishing views. I have long maintained that the waterfront in New York is tragically underutilized, especially when compared to some other cities built on water (Stockholm comes to mind), in part due to the genius idea of encircling Manhattan with highways (thanks, Moses!) thereby trapping people inside the island, both physically and psychologically. Projects like this, along with actual waterfront development (like the Hudson River park, the Brooklyn Piers, etc), may change things for the better. For my part, while taking photos of the waterfalls, I was inspired to organize a picnic in Brooklyn Bridge park one weekend before the summer ends - stay tuned! PS: Make sure to take a look at the detail of this panoramic photo.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

EAT: Hummus - The Debate Continues

Perhaps my declaration of finding the best hummus ever was premature! Inspired by this and this, I boiled my chickpeas for 45 minutes. Granted, they were canned. But the results were amazing. Yes, I'm a dork.

Friday, August 1, 2008

EAT: Breadmakers

One of my favouritest photos from the wedding in Beirut. These 2 ladies were making bread on the spot - or really little breads with 3 different toppings - cheese, minced meat or za'atar. It was such an incredible little snack to have during the cocktail hour. Fresh, warm, fluffy.. YUM!

I asked about the shape of the bread making grill apparatus and no one could explain. I have to investigate, of course :)

Update: Of course I couldn't help myself and had to find out immediately. The dome or upside-down-wok-looking aperture is called "saj" and the bread they were making "manakeesh" or "markook". Not entirely sure how those are different but I will most probably need to find out. Fantastic. PS: this website has a lot of cool Lebanese food photos.