40 Days and 40 Nights

This entry falls into the DO THIS category, and you can DO THIS from the comfort of your own home.  I’m talking about “Cooking With Family”–especially if you have a big, noisy, hungry, chaotic family like mine.

I’m going to take you through what it’s like to cook with my BIG TURKISH FAMILY.  There is never enough time and never enough food.  If you keep those two things in mind and you’ll be far more at peace with the whole process.

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For the first installation of “Cooking With Family” I’m going to discuss Easter Weekend. Or more specifically, LENT. Catholics think they’re all hard-core because they have to give up one thing (of their choosing!) for 40 days.  I mean, sure, it’s hard to give up chocolate or beer or whatever it is you think you can’t live without for 40 whole days, but Catholics ain’t got nothing on the insanity of a Turkish Lent.

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For Turkish Lent you have to give up MEAT AND DAIRY AND BOOZE for 40 daysMEAT AND DAIRY AND BOOZE!!! Can you imagine?!?  No, no you cannot.  No chocolate, no beer, no wine, no cheese and no steak.  Fish are okay, because in the immortal words of Kurt Cobain, “they don’t have any feelings.”

Now, it’s been many many many years since I’ve participated in this self-inflicted torture, but at least half of my family still partakes in this exercise in self control.  I’m sure there are many good reasons why this tradition developed…like cleansing the body and the soul and preparing your taste buds for the inevitable feast to beat all feasts on Easter Sunday making Easter Sunday taste, ironically enough, like heaven.

So for 4o days you’ve deprived yourself of all things delicious and on that last night you really think you can’t take it anymore.  You’re totally hangry and craving something, anything with flavor.

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Most people on this last night of fasting sit down to a boring dinner of sadness and leftover fasting food. My family, however, can’t do anything the way they’re supposed to.  My family has to do everything at DEFCON LEVEL 10.

And thus…Homemade Sushi Night was born.

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This is no cucumber-rolls-with-a-side-salad-and-store-bought-ginger-dressing…oh no, my friends, my crazy Turkish family doesn’t do “mediocre” or “store bought”.  Not when it comes to food.  (Jiro would be proud.)

First you have to perfect the rice.  Which took several attempts over the last few years but now…perfect.  Yes, that is a bucket of rice you see there, because, like my grandmother always said, “GO BIG OR GO HOME.”  Except in Turkish.  Obviously.

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Make sure you gather all of the minions little ones in the family and get them to work.  Because there is a lot of work to do.  Like spreading the rice onto the nori, which is much harder than you think it is.

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And roll roll roll your heart out.

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Side dishes of shrimp summer rolls and edamame?  Oh yeah.  We’ve got that covered.

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Home made carrot-ginger dressing…obviously.

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Fancy sushi rolls of roses and dragons, check.

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And then…set the table.  In your incredibly over-decorated dining room reserved for special occasions.

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And DO NOT forget the saki.

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And begin the feast.  Super fancy Turkish shot glasses required.

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I suggest doubling the Saki for this recipe for maximum enjoyment.  Nay, go ahead and triple it.  You’re with family.

Feeling Fishy about The Goldfinch

Can we, for just a minute, talk about this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Or as the Columbia Journalism School twitter feed called it, “The Goldfish”. Which begs another deeper, darker question about the value of an obscenely overpriced ivy league education.

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So The Goldfinch won, and I for one call bullshit. I mean, did those judges actually read  that book? All 800 pages?  Were there absolutely no other books published this year that fit the guidelines of “distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life”?  And who are these judges and by what standards do they judge?

I will concede that there were beautiful, wonderful, magical moments in this book that I absolutely loved.  Many of the characters are loveable and real and stay with you long after you’ve finished the book…but unfortunately 65% of the 800 pages are filled with horseshit filler descriptions about every single little detail that good writers bravely leave out because they know that you totally get it already.

You do not need to be told how the paint is drying on the antique chair, and which type of paint that antique chair is best coupled with because this is not a “How To” book about painting antique chairs.

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Every time I was pulled into the journey of our hero, Theo, Donna Tarrt would knock on the door of my consciousness and say, “oh, hey, I know you’re in the middle of this really great part, but let me tell you the history of this wallpaper real quick…for like, 25 pages.  But don’t get too comfortable because I will be interrupting this story about 200 more times with inane things that are utterly unimportant to the story line.  You’re welcome.”

And the end–oh god, the end!  50 pages of bizarre preachy rambling weirdness full of cliches observations on life.  It kind of made me feel like I was reading the inner monologue of an amateur cult leader.

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That said, I do think this book could have been one of the best books written in the last five years had there been a far braver editor involved in the making of this book.  The book needed a good 200 page trim.  Okay, I was being nice, it needed a good 400 page trim.  It’s kind of like that girl with really long hair down to the floor who refuses to cut her hair because she’s been growing it out her whole life and she thinks that if you cut her hair now she’ll lose her magical powers but really she just looks like a frumpy creepy hippie resembling that girl from The Ring and all you can think about is how much that hair must just shed all over the place and that if that girl would just spend a couple bucks on a new haircut she’d look, like, totally amazing.  No?  Just me?  It’s just me who thinks that?  Well…okay.

Honestly, I don’t know why I have so many mixed emotions about this book.

Maybe it’s because I can see the potential for what this book could have been?

Or maybe I’m just jealous.

Yeah…I’m probably just pretty jealous.

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A Journey To The 6th Smallest Country In The World

Today I want to talk about Liechtenstein.

No, not the artist Lichtenstein…er..or Heisenberg (it’s always going to be about Breaking Bad)…

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But Liechtenstein, the country.

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Liechtenstein is the 6th smallest country in the world, and yet it is somehow the RICHEST of the German speaking countries.  Richer than Switzerland!  And a whole heck of a lot richer than you and me.

My road trip buddies and I (see Swiss post for more details) took a little side trip over to Liechtenstein because it was so close, and it seemed all the rage as far as the other tourists were concerned. And by “other tourists” I mean the two people that went there in the summer that one time in order to write an entry for Lonely Planet as opposed to our ill-timed February trip to a place located entirely in the Alps, with scarcely a skier among us.

Well, we went anyway.  For the adventure!  The intrigue!  The bragging rights!

Now, the guidebooks will give you at least twenty two reasons to visit Liechtenstein but here the top three.

1.  Go Hiking on the Planet Trail!

“On the Planet Trail the distances in our solar system are mapped on a scale of 1:1 billion, with all of the planets re-created as scale models.” 

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Uhhh, looks super exciting, but no thanks.  It’s February and we’re in the Alps.

2. Check out the Castle!

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Except the royal family lives there and you’re not allowed inside.  Ever.  Because if they let you in, then they’re going to have to let everyone in, and who has time to accommodate 11 people.

3. Head over to the Liechtenstein Center/Tourist Center to get your passport stamped!

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Finally, something that sounded fun!  So we headed to the local public library tourist center and talked to a very very nice woman who seemed very happy to be talking to the only people she’s seen in days.  She was so grateful we dropped by that she only charged us for three stamps and not five.  Then again, neither her or her country need our silly America dollars.

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After our stamps were stamped we asked her advice on where we could grab a nice dinner as it was headed toward 7pm.  She sighed…thought for a moment…and then said, “Zurich.”

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The Franc-en-shaft was back in full-effect.

So, unless you’re really into collecting stamps in your passport you can go right ahead and skip this one.

A Foodie Nature Walk: Red Medicine

Since we’re on the topic of LA, let’s talk about the very quirky, very interesting and (mostly) very delicious restaurant scene that LA has to offer.

I’ve eaten a lot of strange things in my day and I would define myself as an “adventurous eater” but even I have my limits—I will not eat brains (ever again) or bugs, which is sad because it is my life-long dream to be on Survivor because I know I could TOTALLY win that show. Except for the food challenge–I would lose that.  I’m also not really into the more violent challenges. Or the muddy challenges. Or the water challenges. Or probably any challenge that involves me holding still for any real length of time. But I’d be awesome at the puzzles! Seriously, give me a puzzle and watch me bring home that immunity idol!

But I digress.

I dragged my good friend Marina (who is an actress and was totally on Modern Family, one of my favorite shows ever and in one of my favorite episodes ever) to Red Medicine.

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I tried to make her wear this veil to the restaurant to ensure VIP service but she pretended she couldn’t hear me.

Red Medicine is a very unique Vietnamese inspired restaurant with a flair for flower arrangements. On your plate. To eat. Yes, I do mean they arrange flowers on your plate to eat.

But hey, no bugs and no brains, so I’m in!

We ordered the tasting menu and threw caution to the wind. And as each dish came out, our eyes and stomachs became more and more confused.  Do I eat this?  Instagram it?  Or put it on my shelf at work next to my Zen Garden?

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Honestly, this was so beautiful we didn’t want to eat it.  Nor did we know how to begin eating it.  But hunger prevailed and we just sort of dug in.  After a few bites Marina looked up at me and said, “Am I eating a forest? Is this what nature tastes like?” Yes, Marina, yes, you are eating a forest and yes, nature tastes kind of okay. I wanted it to be mind-blowing, but I have to say it was just okay. The flavor combinations were just a bit strange.  My pallet was unsure of what to do with all the information, but it was so interesting to dissect that it kind of made up for it.

Then this came out, “a custard of Fresh Cream” and flowers and it was really really yummy. I mean, add fresh cream to anything and it’s a victory for everyone involved.  I kind of moved the flowers out of the way and got right to the cream, because…flowers.

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Our next entree was “Dungeness Crab from the Oregon Coast”.  I didn’t realize that the Oregon Coast boasted of delicious crab, but I was happy to get a taste because this was pretty darn scrumptious…and looked more like food so my whole eye-stomach connection was feeling a bit more at ease.

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Next up, Lamb’s Shoulder.  The lame loser part of me thought, “ohmygodthankgod, real food.”  The lame foodie me thought, “oh, how divine.  the flavor profiles are spot on, cheerio, tut tut.”

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And finally, dessert.  Shaved Ice of Redwood Stems.

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Let me repeat, “Shaved Ice Of Redwood Stems.”  Now we were legitimately eating the forest.  I want to say I was transported to a world of sugarplums and fairies and pixie dust, but…no…my pallet is sadly not as refined as I had hoped and I just thought this was kind of weird tasting.  Of course we ate the whole thing because, you know…dessert.

The next time you’re in LA, give Red Medicine a try.  But I suggest you order off the menu so that you have more control over the amount of nature you ingest. And bring a camera.  Because even though you think you’re sooo not that person who instagrams every meal, in this case you’re so going to be that person.

California Dreamin’

So here’s the thing about LA. After a long, and especially miserable winter in New York, you fly out to LA and you really really really want to love it. You’ve been imagining yourself giving up this life in the cold, hard city for palm trees and sunshine and hills and beaches.

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But then you land in LA.

And then you pick up your rental car in LA.

And then you drive the 10 miles to your hotel in LA.

AND IT TAKES YOU TWO HOURS. TWO HOURS OF BUMPER TO BUMPER TRAFFIC. You told your good-for-nothing-GPS to avoid all highways because this is not your first time at this rodeo, and it keeps redirecting you to the god-damn-405. You know the 405 is your own personal hell, but your GPS insists. You’ve made it 6 of those 10 miles avoiding that highway but your GPS tricks you into hopping on for the last 4 miles.

You think, “how bad can it be, it’s only 4 miles!” And you’d be wrong. So very very wrong. Ninety minutes later you emerge from that soul crushing apocalypse only to find that the Starbucks that you were so desperately seeking is there…on the wrong side of the highway…and there’s no parking lot. Or parking anywhere that seems even remotely logical.

You wax-poetic (to yourself) about the advantages of traveling by foot in your beloved Manhattan (completely blocking out the traumatic winter you’ve just come through).  You rage to a room full of imaginary people in your head about the misery of trying to get anywhere in any kind of hurry (or non-hurry) in this city-of-broken-dreams. And that is how you think of this city that draws all these hopeful dreamers only to crush their souls while they sit in endless hours of traffic going absolutely no where.

But the weather is really great. And they have In-n-Out Burger. So, I mean, you kind of have to go. At least once.  Because food.

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Ghost Towns and Ghosts

If you live in Manhattan, you probably do not own a car. I actually have never owned a car in my entire life. I mean, yes, in high school my dad let me use his car to drive to school and to my awesome minimum wage job…at the mall…where I made, baked and sold Cinnabons. And yes, there is half a stick of butter in each one. And no, that doesn’t include the buttery sugar glaze that you pour on top of the right-out-of-the-oven Cinnabon.

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Where was I? Right, right, I have never owned a car. However, I rent cars all the time. Last weekend I got suckered with this baby. Texas plates and all.

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As a proud New Yorker, it hurts me to drive a red car with Texas plates, but as a typical New Yorker, I didn’t even notice the Texas plates until an hour before I had to return the car so I was completely unfazed by all the dubious looks and unwarranted honks I was getting from suspicious New Yorkers. (confession: the honks may have been warranted)

In honor of Sunday-Funday my friend and I took that little red car and went on a much needed mini-road trip to Greenport, NY in North Fork, Long Island.  North Fork is known for it’s many many wineries, it’s farms, and it’s quaint beach towns.

What no one told us is that Greeport in winter was about as exciting as…well…as exciting as a beach town in winter.

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Although on our walk through the eerily vacant town we did stumble on some glorious gifts and fabulous furnishings.  And most unique gifts.

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And this old school house…which was, of course, closed.

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But this…this was the Piece de Resistance.  Just hanging out.  In a window display.  For sale.  If someone would have just opened up the shop this guy would have been mine.

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Is this man a pirate? Is that a sawed off shotgun? Did they have sawed off shotguns in pirate times?  I will never know because this store, like very other store, was CLOSED.

We decided to explore a bit more and stumbled on this antique carousel and there were actually, like, two people there!  Two people and really really creepy horses who look to be in a lot of pain.

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We attempted to walk around some more but Winter was being an absolute jerk.  He’s like that last guest at the party that will just not leave.  Go home, Winter, go home.  It’s time.

We jumped back in our rented ride and headed toward home, but of course we had to stop at a few wineries along the way.  We stumbled upon one that looked pretty nice so we pulled in expecting a quiet, sophisticated atmosphere.

Instead we found THE ENTIRE TOWN.

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Maybe this is my kind of town?  A winery as your church?  I could totally get into that kind of worship.

We had to rip ourselves away and head home before dark because neither of us are particularly good drivers, and don’t even get me started on the whole night vision (or lack thereof) thing.

But then we saw a highway sign that said, “AMITTYVILLE”.  And I’m not one to ignore signs.  So we turned off toward Amittyville in search of “The Amittyville Horror House“.

My friend looked up the address and plugged it into her phone…but her phone kept deleting the address.  Every. Single. Time!  The iPhone did NOT want us to go to this house.  The closer we got, the less cooperative her phone became.  So I plugged it into my phone and my phone didn’t seem to have an issue with going to the house.  Probably because my phone has seen way worse things.  Poor phone.

We pulled into the neighborhood and we could not find the house because someone smartly removed the house number because jerks like us probably drive by all the time.  Finally, we resorted to pulling up a photo of the house and there it was, right in front of us.  On a surprisingly, and annoyingly, busy street.  I mean, how can I stealthily take photos when so many cars keep driving by?!?

But here it was, the house where a 23-year-old Ronald Defeo, Jr. killed his entire family while they were sleeping in their beds.  The house that spawned 11 movies!  The house that looked completely and eerily…unremarkable.

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My advice: save North Fork, Long Island for the summer…it’s probably a lot warmer then. And there are probably less ghosts.  Probably.

The Time I Met Kato Kaelin At the “Pretty Woman” Hotel

Would you recognize Kato Kaelin if he walked into a bar? Well, I certainly didn’t.

The last I had seen of Kato Kaelin he was helping OJ Simpson get away with murder and had terrible foofy 90’s hair.

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So I should not be judged for being caught unaware when this strange man came up to my coworker and me and said, “Hi, I’m Kato. Kato Kaelin. This is my friend, Bob, from Texas.”

But let’s rewind just a bit. My coworker and I were out in LA working an event which ended around 10pm, so we headed back to our hotel hoping to grab a quick dinner at the bar. We were staying at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel, otherwise known as, “the Pretty Woman” hotel.

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The Beverly Wilshire is leaps and bounds above most of the cheesy trendy hotels in LA because it’s true lux and not some weird modern faux-lux that falls apart after a few years. (I’m talking to you W Hotel In Hollywood.) And if you’re a city person, the Bev Wilshire is located in pretty much the only place in LA that is conducive to walking.

However, the hotel is “conducive” to some other things as well. It is a not-so-well-kept secret that on any given night you can walk into the very fine, very expensive hotel bar and find several attractive single ladies drinking alone. Who happen to charge by the hour.

So there we are, two lovely ladies, all dressed up because we had just come from our event, sitting at the bar eating a dinner of wine, appetizers and desserts. (Who needs a main course when you have cheese plates and ice cream?)

We were sipping our wine and indulging in our delicious cheese plate and in walks Kato Kaelin and a very tall, very drunk older man and they immediately zero in us.

As Kato introduced himself, Bob, his very tall, very drunk friend put his hands into my hair—a grown man who is an absolute stranger to me put both of his hands into my hair!!—and screamed, “No extensions!! No extensions!! Your hair is so soft!”

I had to pick my jaw up off the floor and say to my new friend Kato, “your friend needs to remove his hands from my hair.” Kato laughed it off and said, “Oh, Bob is harmless.”

Drunk Bob then teeters away, distracted by the scantily clad woman sitting at a table in the corner of the room and starts to chat her up/drool on her chest.

Meanwhile, Kato is trying to chat us up, but my friend and I just could not take him seriously. I tried to be nice, I really did. But then he leaned over me and said, “Oh, what kind of cheese is this?” and started eating from our cheese plate! I mean, I know times are rough, but, come on.

Still, I felt bad, I thought maybe the guy was hungry, because, really, what does he do for a living? So I told him to try the Blue Cheese because it was delicious and he said, “Oh no, I don’t want to have bad breath, do you think that will give me bad breath?”

Click, click, boom.

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This is when I realized what Kato does for a living.

Kato (probably) entertains rich men from out of town and ends the night at the Beverly Wilshire hotel bar to pick up some very expensive late night entertainment. I also realized he thought that my friend and I might be a part of that “late night entertainment”.

Yes, that’s right.

And I’m not quite sure how to take that because these girls were actually quite attractive and well dressed and really way more put together than I will ever be. But then…yeah, also not a fan of being confused for a call girl, regardless of how expensive they may be. So I quickly made it very clear that my friend and I were in LA for legitimate work that had nothing to do with selling our bodies for money. (Just our souls, but that’s another story.)

Kato got the hint and slowly (and rather gracefully) made his way over to his very tall, very drunk friend Bob and found himself a woman who was more than happy to take Bob’s money.

So do go to LA, definitely stay at the gorgeous Beverly Wilshire, and absolutely positively go hang out at the bar when the dinner rush has subsided…you will not regret it.