Sunday, August 16, 2009

Back, and hungrier than ever.

Well, it's clearly been too long for an actual apology, so let's all sort of shrug our shoulders and move on. In appreciation, I offer you this: a list of the 'bests' in my dining experiences during the past few months of silence. With all of this going on, who had time to write about it?

Best meal with friends: a thai steak salad in a loft in Dalston.
Best meal with strangers: kebabs and tandoor at New Tayyab's in Whitechapel.
Best meal location: fish, chips and a pasty on a dock in Lymington.
Best meal in London: crab in butter and garlic (Bombay style) at Trishna's, with R and no crackers
Best meal with my fam: goat curry, biryani and dad's retirement in Tyson's Corner.
Best meal with B's fam: a mango mojito brunch in Leesburg
Best meal with our fam: crab fest with both sides in Oakton
Best meal in Manchester: Dim Sum and wine, with pranks.
Best meal under 50 cents: a flatbread sandwich of hardboiled eggs, laughing cow cheese and salsa in Marrakech.
Best meal on holiday: champagne for pennies with lots of chorizo and laughter in Barcelona.
Best anniversary meal: A gifted Alsatian feast in a cottage in Great Falls.
Best meal: A Bisteca Fiorentina with B in a hidden, yet wildly popular, alley in Tuscany.

* Incidentally, the worst meal was also had in our beloved Tuscany. It's too soon to tell the story, but let's just say that it involved chinese food, silly service, and very expensive napkins.

Thanks for coming back, folks. I'm ready to resume the conversation, armed with more ideas about food, less anxiety about the grad school process, and more good people in my life to invite to dinner one day. Happy fall semester!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What the G20's going to gulp down

As all of you likely know, the G20's in town. I attended the Put People First march on Saturday, which was a peaceful, spirited display of people's frustration with the job situation in this global economy, the decline of public services, and the seriousness of climate change. Today's a bit different, with skirmishes breaking out in front of banks downtown; some windows were smashed by a handful of people, but, of course, those pictures will stay front and center on all the major news outlets and dominate the impressions people have of the protests. Elsewhere, there's more of the spirit I witnessed on Saturday, with loads of recently-laid-off individuals justly demonstrating that the victims of the global economy shouldn't be expected to bear the burden of bankers' bonuses, while they wait in lines at welfare offices.

And, in the midst of all this, Jamie Oliver's made his G20 menu public (don't even get me started on the insipid reporting that refers to the dining politicians "and their wives" (!) ignoring Germany and Argentina's gender membership. I usually expect more from The Guardian, but I guess I shouldn't.):
  • Organic salmon from Shetland, served with samphire and sea kale, a selection of vegetables from Sussex, Surrey and Kent, and Irish soda bread.
  • Goat's cheese starter (v)
Main course
  • Slow-roasted shoulder of lamb from the Elwy Valley in north Wales, with Jersey Royal potatoes, wild mushrooms and mint sauce.
  • Lovage and potato dumplings for the main course (v)
  • Bakewell tart and custard.
I think Oliver's tribute to local produce and his country's distinctive tastes is refreshing. Chef Ottolenghi discusses the menu here and comments on its deliberate nature--none of the courses are meant to showcase Oliver's culinary prowess, in particular; instead, he's hoping to impress dignitaries with the freshness of the produce and the flavor profiles he creates with such simple, elegant choices.

The more interesting part of Ottolenghi's commentary refers to the symbolism behind Oliver's power in designing the menu of such an event. While 'shopping locally' resounds loud and clear in these courses, Ottolenghi suggests that there could have been more multicultural representation on the menu--a vegetable curry, for example, instead of the failsafe goat cheese as a vegetarian option. Let's leave aside the fact that 'curry' is hugely ambiguous and how wildly inappropriate it is to think that 'vegetable curry' is a specific enough alternative--as though the word 'casserole,' would likewise suffice--and focus on the positive intention behind the idea. I love the idea of a multicultural society being represented by its diverse parts, particularly when cuisine is such a wonderful way to highlight regional differences. Because, to be honest, if you were hoping to lure me somewhere with the promise of an authentically "British" menu, you'd probably get my voicemail. If, on the other hand, you invited me to a showcase of Britain's immigrant tastes--and added that every dish would be created with fresh and local ingredients--I'd head over early, with some Californian wine.

And maybe some dessert, because as much as tart may be offered with custard--I can't count the number of times I've looked away for a second, only to return to a tart completely immersed in heavy cream. United Kingdom, have you met the United States and its endemic obesity? Nice to meet you, too.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Manchester, it is.

I know I've been remiss in writing in this space--I could blame it on any number of things (a trip to Morocco, a play, new friends, or, of course, work), but there's no point really. I just hope some folks are still reading and haven't written me off as a lost cause.

So... what's new? Well, let's take this slow. To work us up to where we used to be, I offer you this:
This is where I'm going to live in Manchester for a couple of weeks this summer. For what? Smart question. To attend the Saguaro Seminar -- the Summer Workshop on Inequality and Social Change in Britain and the United States. The irony, I know. It also means I won't spend my first anniversary with B. But my advisor tells me that "it'll be very useful for [me] more ways than one." Not going to lie, I'm not sure I know what that means. For now, I'm going to pretend that there's an amazing French chef, like the next Julia Child, employed there and I'll be able to pick up a few tasty recipes. And then I'll come home and cook one of them to celebrate with B.

But it probably has something to do with this bloody job market. eh hem.

Till soon.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Glor, gloooooorrrrr, glooo-o-rrrrr, gloo-o-o-o-ria...

I'll tell you something a little weird about me, something that no one probably knows. When I'm writing, I sometimes like to listen to a soundtrack that I've made for myself, compiled of various different versions of the song "Gloria In Excelsis Deo." I'm serious, I have versions from Pavarotti to Mariah Carey. A version by DJ Da Cut happens to be a favorite--still outranked, however, by Bach's Mass in B minor. You just don't get better music.

Anyway, I'm thinking about that because I've wanted to write tonight since I went to this talk last night by Susie Orbach, down at Southbank Center. She's just released a supposedly very powerful new book called Bodies and had a 'conversation' with another therapist on stage. I have to say, it was most likely the best intellectual event I've been to in my life. Instead of reading from prepared remarks or giving some off-the-cuff lecture about something very obscure, likely taken out of context and really inaccessible to people who are listening to information about it over 45 short minutes. This was an honest conversation between two therapists who think about gender and sexuality and psychoanalysis because they love it--and they were bouncing ideas off of each other while drinking wine under lights and in front of microphones. And we got to watch.

They talked about diets quite a bit, because of the general idea behind the book, which is that people basically do such awful things to their bodies that it suggests they don't act like they have them--therein lies the paradox, because what else does a dieter care about, besides her/his body?! She talked about eating disorders; she told us how her mother was the first person she knew who dieted (when no one did it) and now her daughter is the only one in her class who doesn't diet (when everyone does it). She questioned whether we could ever really engage with being human, if we denied any flaw, or obstacle, or abnormality that it included. To be a feminist, I think she would say, is to love your body no matter what it looks like--and, almost more importantly, to think others bodies are great, no matter what they look like.

Do I think I've achieved that level of feminist consciousness? No, I'll be the first one to admit I buy into image and appearances more than I'd like to. I know I'm lucky because I love food so much and yet I don't necessarily pay any costs. If I looked very different, I'm not sure how I'd feel about image and appearance. I do waiver back and forth what side of this issue I come down on, but, I could be better about it so I'm working on it, whatever that means. An issue that I am completely, 100% resolved on? Gender segregation (or "free mixing" as my interview respondents call it in London) and how wrong it is. I don't understand the arguments I hear in favor it: "Men and women are good at different things. Women are better at things in the home, and men just have to leave the house to provide for the family," or "If men and women are together, then men start looking at other men's wives and the women become really uncomfortable"....these were both uttered by women, by the way. It's really difficult for me to understand either point of views: either women who choose not to stay home are somehow defying some laws of nature or that men and women are so primordially attracted to each other, regardless of appearance or personality, that we can't trust them not to jump each other when they're left to their own devices?

The Koran actually only refers to segregation when the Prophet's wives are mentioned; they were so special and superior to everyone that you weren't allowed to speak to them without a curtain between you and them--not that they weren't allowed, you weren't, AND it was the Prophet's wives, not every-day Abeelah. It's something that's been interpreted in one way and launched to amazing degrees. And then this book that I'm reading right now--written by an ex-radical British Islamist who left Hizbut Tahrir and is now telling his story--tells of an interpretation of the Koran that a really educated economist who worked for J.P. Morgan in London and moonlighted as the head of one of Hizb's cells in the East End suggested at one of his sessions. He invoked an interpretation that said men were justified in examining the naked bodies of women before they agreed to marry them, because bodily abnormalities that might otherwise spawn divorce later on could be detected and the match could be avoided. And he interprets 'looking at them' to mean, in fact, raping them.

If people are free to interpret whatever the hell they may want from the scripture (ANY scripture--this applies across the board), then WHAT IS NOT OKAY IN GOD'S NAME? That's why I'm not religious. Because, while the idea may have been good in the beginning, it's been completely bastardized by its practice.

-----in exlesis deeee-ooooo....

Monday, February 9, 2009

Lemn Sissay

On Saturday night, I went with some friends to see Lemn Sissay perform his new one-man show, entitled "Why I Don't Hate White People" at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith. While the piece posted above is meant to illustrate his incredibly lyrical quality (and perhaps ward off the miserable weather they forecast for the next couple of days here), the show we saw on Saturday focused on his personal journey to understand race relations growing up in northern England. Part Ethiopian/part Eritrean, and raised by white foster/adoptive parents after a bout with social services, Sissay chronicles the difficulties of being the only black person he'd ever known until he was eighteen years old.

Sissay hops around the black box experimental stage, wildly and beautifully impersonating key characters throughout his childhood--my favorites included the pub-going-rugby-playing meathead in Wigam and the old lady who sits next to him on the completely empty bus, lest she appear ignorant by not sitting next to him. The story that emerges is clear: Sissay grew up shouldering the burden of explaining to people what the other is like--answering questions about afros, weed, and anatomical sexuality that reveal the insidiousness of racism today—racism veiled behind curiosity, humor, and the arrogance of confidence.

D. emailed me a nasty review of the show that gets at the heart of exactly why this show is so important--namely, that some people think that we’re in a post-racist society because the lady on the bus didn’t accuse him of stealing her purse or because the meathead kept his fists tucked into his pockets. Apparently racism needs to leave some sort of physical proof of its brutality.

When B. and I were on our honeymoon in St. Lucia in July, we went to a ‘fish fry’ in a village across the bay— an attempt to market St.Lucian food and culture to a captive group of tourists who weren’t supposed to know any better (and we didn’t). The food was hideous and the same 3 dishes were served at every other stall: a combination of stuffed crab shells, overcooked garlicky shrimp and bland fried beignets. Point is, there were around 10 people on the boat for the 30 minutes it took to get over there, we were in close quarters in the market once we got there, and we joined each other again on the 30 minute trip back across the bay. Once we returned to our resort, B. and I went up to the office to get our bags, with the rest of the crew behind us, trekking up the 70-80 stairs it took to walk up to the cottages from the beach. I left the office to visit the bathroom and ran right into this obnoxious ball of lard who was from the States and had a sad new wife who used him for the money he threw around the place we were staying. He was drunk and panting profusely from 10 minutes of cardio, but he managed to stop me, place his six-pack on the bench and start mumbling about filling out a comment card and how we (meaning: staff at the resort) should build some sort of structure that mechanically lifted people from the beach. Quite honestly, I was stunned and walked away, leaving him speaking unclearly behind me. In the bathroom, I thought hard about what had just happened. For a stretch of 6 hours, this slob had failed to register any differences between myself and the resort’s staff--even the full uniforms that the latter wore around the clock weren’t enough of a signal. Because the only thing we shared in common was the color of our skin and that particular color made us invisible to this man. The shame that comes from feeling like you need to justify your existence or belonging at any place or point in time is still very much a serious racism—insidious because it seems impossible to legislate against humiliation.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Dissertations and Drinks

It's already clear what kind of semester this is going to be. I'm going to have to scrap my routine of cooking at home and having meals planned to enjoy at the end of the day, in favor of remaining forever 'flexible'....meaning that I should never give up an opportunity to go out and continue an excellent conversation, even if that means I eat two dinners or leave meat defrosting in my kitchen.

Last night was the first taste of this spontaneity. I had drinks with the cast of the feminist play I'm in next month and before I know it, the entire group is debating the exact topic I'm studying--Islamic feminist mobilization in the second generation in the U.K. and U.S. It's clearly a topic that people here think about and--more importantly--become passionate about. So it leads to lively evenings and I really didn't want the evening to end just yet, so I joined a couple of women for a late night meal at a Malaysian restaurant in Russel Square. Each of us wanted a starter, to just tide us over a late night craving, but the waiter kindly informed us that it was a minimum of 5 pounds per patron. So I gave in and got a whole meal--Malaysian Chicken Curry and Rice that was out of this world. I have to say, creamy coconut curries are probably my biggest weakness. My cholesterol suffers, but I'm absolutely held hostage to those flavors. The kicker is that eating in London is actually very cheap for me--namely because I can't eat large portions so I *always* have leftovers. I don't try to ration, I love food too much; but I just can't put it all away, so I take it home. Even though they charge 50p here for the takeaway boxes, lest you dare not to eat it all on the premises, it still makes for a pretty good deal. Especially with the exchange rate in favor of the dollar the way it is.

Tomorrow I'll write about the wonderful night I just had with some old college people--sometimes I feel so far removed from that part of my life, that I forget how easy it is to connect with some of those old friends. I'm really looking forward to using this phase in London to rebuild certain friendships.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mangoes and Curry

I moved into my new flat on Sunday--a big open-plan studio with a full kitchen, high ceilings, lounge area and fireplace. I know that makes it sounds less like a studio and more like some sort of figment of my imagination, but I'm the one who started to memorize the listings on, recognize 11 digit numbers on my phone from agents returning calls, dream about missed viewings, and get bamboozled by 'wire-me-money' schemes, not unlike the Nigerian e-mail correspondence we all know and love. So I know it's very much real and very much appreciated at this point.

It's in the conservation area of a great neighborhood called Angel, a mere 4 blocks from a popular strip of restaurants, bars, theatres, boutiques and galleries. It's only a couple of blocks from a popular bus hub, a convenient tube stop, and it's walkable to the British Library. You might have heard it snowed here (blah, blah, blah), so the slushiness and slick streets threatened my ability to fully appreciate my neighborhood for the past few days. But today I said no more.

After finishing up in the BL today (I *finally* got a reader's pass, granting me access to the Social Sciences reading room for the next year), I went to a show called The Political Animal. It was part of a BL series called "Taking Liberties"--an exhibition meant to explore the history of freedoms and rights in the U.K. This show, however, was meant to be a comedy show, spotlighting 4 prominent comedic talents and their politically satirical material. I found out about it last minute, so I went alone and got chatted up by a slightly strange woman who claimed to be in love with New York. Now I've been to London more times than I can count, but I've *never* met as many people as I have already this time around who are absolutely thrilled by the idea of America, let alone my roots there. And when this lady asked me where I lived, and I said New York, and she asked me where, I--inexplicably--couldn't bring myself to say "Ithaca" and explain where that was. I mumbled "Brooklyn" and then numbly sat there, hating my dishonesty, while she hemorrhaged about buying a suit there once.

The show was pretty disappointing. Luckily, the two comedians I really wanted to see (Paul Sinha--an Indian ex-doctor who complained about terrorism and racial profiling, yet still made juvenile jokes about "Gah-nish, the el'phant god;" and Rory Bremmer, a truly amazing impressionist who saved his flops with particularly fantastic impersonations of Obama, Clinton and Gordon Brown) were the two acts before intermission, so I ducked out after they finished and the rest of the crowd hit the bar in the lobby.

I was starving so I took a bus home from Kings Cross and hit the Tesco Metro on the walk back to pick up some groceries to make Pork and Aubergine Green Curry Noodles. It was quick, delightfully easy, and will definitely be a go-to meal this term. I'd suggest adding a tbsp or two of fish sauce and brown sugar, each, but I didn't have any around. I used the noodles illustrated below, and they go straight into the wok from the bag, fully cooked. Pretty amazing, that Tesco.

Pork and Aubergine Green Curry Noodles

1tbsp olive oil
1 lb ground pork
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
2 tsp soy sauce
1 medium aubergine (eggplant), sliced into half moons
3 tbsp thai green curry paste
noodles of your choice (4 servings worth)

Saute the pork in the oil and garlic until it loses its pinkness. Add curry paste, pepper, salt, and soy sauce and stir well. Cook for 5 minutes and then add the aubergine. Cook for another 10 minutes, or until the aubergine is tender. Meanwhile prepare the noodles of your choice separately; when they are done, add them to the curry, toss thoroughly, and stir-fry for another minute.
Serve warm.

And now I'm sitting at my coffee table, listening to the rain outside and starting a painting of mangoes. God help me, I love London, but I need something tropical in my place, right about NOW.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Immigrant narratives

Since I've arrived in London, I've had the good fortune to set up home with my cousin, A. and her husband, Bi. They're warm, gracious people with the dry humour of proper Brits and it's made the transition feel more like a visit with friends rather than a harsh disjuncture from my old life. Of course I still miss B., but they know him and adore him, so it's easy to include him in the stories I tell or the questions they ask.

Tonight we had a bit of a family reunion, where we had dinner with my other cousin (A.'s sister, R.) and her husband, D. and our cousin from India, S. We're an eclectic group for sure--A., Bi., and R. are all doctors, while D. is a teacher/aspiring PhD in anti-racism studies, and S. has just moved here on a 2 year program in the 'hospitality industry,' which is likely to lead to a job in banquet waitering. We ate at a place called Lahore in Whitechapel, known to some as the best "Indian" food (though it's Pakistani, matter of fact) in London, where we had generous helpings of lamb, paneer, and chicken tikka, lamb and chicken rogan gosht, channa masala, and chicken and bindi curry. I still haven't quite processed how odd it is to be completely surrounded by South Asians wherever I go in this city, where brown folk of all sorts of different ilk come together in an establishment like this for food that reminds them of home--however they may define it.

In particular, it struck me that S. and I are both nomads, while living such different lives in the same city. He's living down in southwest London (Hounslow), which is known to be a primarily Hindu, low-income area, going to catering school at Hammersmith, living with 4 other young men in a 2 bedroom flat, and applying for part-time jobs at McDonalds or Subway in the spare time he's not in class from 9am-10pm. I'm currently living in southeast London (Tower Hamlets), which is known to be primarily Muslim, pursuing independent (read: b*llshit) interviews, about to move into my own flat in Angel, and planning evening excursions after my days of interviews and time at the British library end around 6 or 7pm. We're contemporary nomads in our own ways, but our 'immigration' stories have completely been set by the lives we led in our sending countries. And that's only something I wish conservatives would one day open their bloody eyes and learn--that the opportunities presented to a person before they uproot themselves from their home critically shape the lives they'll lead in their new destinations.

In any case, I'm about to leave the comforts of family company to start my own, independent life here. Fortunately, I'll have my old friend, W., staying over, on his way to get a visa in London Monday morning, so I won't be all alone immediately. W. actually helped me christen my apartment in Ithaca as well--back in 2005, he took an epic bus trip from nyc to toronto, stopping in our little town for no other reason than to spend time with a friend; for that, he'll always be on my list of good souls. Good friends pay visits, no matter where you live.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

London, baby.

So... I live in London now. The past month was a whirlwind of family visits, holiday festivities and work-crunchtime on an academic editing project that tested the very limits of my sanity. In the midst of all of this, my poor blog and its faithful followers fell by the curb. But now I've finally crossed the Atlantic and no longer by the 'kerb' shall they lie.

I'll admit that I don't yet have much in order over here. I still need a flat, some interview contacts, and a working questionnaire, for example. And so it seems silly to be updating my blog while all of these big items hang in the balance, but you can only search that awfully tedious so often and wait for only so many people to call you back before you go stark mad. On top of it, I miss B. unbearably and think its bittersweet irony to finally be in a fantastic city--my favorite and his homeland, in fact--without him. Ah, well... so is the tired story of graduate student nomadism.

I'm going to be much better about posting here from now on, if only to keep those interested updated on my latest exploits. There will be stories about food, because that's how I travel and experience cities; and there will be politics, because that's what I'm supposed to be following over here. As a tribute to my new locale, here's a recipe that I tried out last week before leaving Obama-land. For some inexplicable reason, the Brits love this dish more than most Indians, pairing it with some lager and (most likely) a tall glass of cold water.


2 dried red chilies
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 (3-inch) stick of cinnamon
1 teaspoon black mustard seed
1 teaspoon fenugreek seed
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 medium onions, sliced
2 to 3 tablespoons water
1-inch cube fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
1 small whole head of garlic, peeled and separated
2 to 3 tablespoons water
2 1/2 pounds pork, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric

1) Using a spice or coffee mill to grind red chilies, cumin seeds, peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cinnamon stick, black mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds. In a small bowl combine the ground spices with the vinegar, salt, and brown sugar; then set aside.
2) In a large, deep frying pan (with lid for use later), heat the oil over medium heat; add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions turn golden brown and crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Set aside the frying pan with the remaining oil.
3) Using an electric blender or food processor, puree the fried onions with 2 to 3 tablespoons water.
4) Combine the onion puree with reserved spice mixture. This mixture is the Vindaloo paste.
5) Again, using the blender or processor, blend the ginger and garlic with 2 to 3 tablespoons water into a smooth paste.
6) Heat the oil in reserved frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook the cubed pork in small batches to ensure they brown nicely, placing cooked pork to a bowl until all pork is browned nicely.
7) Next, add the ginger-garlic paste to the frying pan and reduce the heat to medium. Cook and stir paste for a few seconds, then stir in the ground coriander and turmeric, again cooking for just few seconds. Quickly stir in the browned pork cubes and accumulated juices, the vindaloo paste and the 1 cup water. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 hour or until pork is fork-tender, stirring occasionally.

Makes 10 servings.