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.

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.

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.

New Yorkers, We’re Nicer Than You Think

New York City is the 5th most visited city in the world, so I think it’s fair to include some sage advice from a New York native every now and then.

What makes one a native, you ask?  It’s when you reach this moment of realization described by John Updike: The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.

Also, I’ve lived here for just a little over 16 years.  Admitting that makes me feel really old.

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New Yorkers have a bad reputation for being rude, cold, direct, unfriendly, and blunt.  Which is true.  But mostly it’s only true because you’re in the way and we’re in a hurry.  It’s also not true and here’s a great example of why.

Yesterday, I got off the subway and headed toward the gym, heavy gym bag slung over my shoulder.  It was a bit rainy, but nothing serious.  I was wearing these boots that are a bit slippery–although I will never understand why any shoe maker would make BOOTS that have a slippery heel, aren’t boots meant for inclement weather?!

So a bit of rain, plus my slippery boots, plus my head in the clouds resulted in me first slipping on the wet pavement and then me tripping gracelessly over my own feet until I came crashing down so hard on the pavement that I literally bounced.  Bounced! 

As my gym bag went flying off to the right all I heard behind me were loud gasps of “OH MY GOD!” and “OH NO!”  I could even imagine what I must have looked like falling for absolutely NO REASON.  Thankfully I was wearing a large puffy jacket (I’m so over you, Winter) and it somewhat cushioned my fall.  Somewhat.

As I was attempting to pick myself up off the ground as quickly as I could, two teenage boys (that looked like the kind of kids that would be shot in Florida) stopped and immediately tried to help me up, and were all, “You okay, ma’am?”

“I’m okay, I’m totally fine…thank you so much, I’m fine,” but I wanted to crawl in a hole and hide forever.  And also, when did people start calling me ma’am??

I instantly decided that the gym was just not going to happen, and changed direction and started walking home instead.  A really nice, older homeless guy started walking down the block with me and said, “Honey, don’t be embarrassed, we all fall down sometimes…you’ll be okay.”

I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry, I probably did a little of both.  Then I went home and ordered Thai food and watched really really bad tv.

See, New Yorkers, they’re nice people.  When you fall, they pick you up and they tell you it’s going to be okay.

The Time We Found A Haunted House In Cooperstown, NY

Let’s go on a little adventure…in the country.

This is Cooperstown, NY.  Gather your friends or your family and drive on over.  Or down.  Or up.

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Rent a gorgeous house with an awesome name like The Treehouse.

Pull in the driveway and be all like whoa….

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Circle around back and be like OH MY GAWD.

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Then sit back, relax and enjoy the view and be all like, “alright alright alright”.

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Slowly unravel your city-self shaking off the intensity and speed with which you are accustomed and take in the quiet.  Think about you life and where you’re headed.  Take a minute to reflect.  Start to feel a little bit terrified of being alone with your thoughts…and the eery quiet.  Are there wolves out there?  Bears?  Racoons??  Why are there no car alarms going off?   How far is the closest hospital?  How long would it take the police to get here?  WHERE AM I?  WHY DID I AGREE TO THIS?  DO THEY EVEN DELIVER PIZZA OUT THIS FAR??

Shake all that off and think of…the creameries.  Where there is country, there is a dairy farm, and where there is a dairy farm, there is a creamery.  Go ahead…eat your feelings.

Because seriously.  Creameries.

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Wake up to a bright new day and go for a walk.  And see this sign.

And ignore it.

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Ignore this sign, too.

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Realize you’ve stumbled upon every child-who-grew-up-in-the-80’s dream–AN ABANDONED HOUSE THAT HAS TO TOTALLY BE HAUNTED.  Because, what’s creepier and more of a ghost magnet than an abandoned swing set?

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Debate whether the house is safe enough to go into.

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Lose one city-slicker who says, “I’m pretty sure spirits have been living in there for a while, and I don’t want to make their invisible acquaintance and then bring them with me wherever I go for the rest of my life.  Also, that floor looks like it’s going to collapse.”

Indeed, it does.

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But this brave little camper is NOT AFRAID.

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Leave your only smart and logical friend outside and forge ahead.  Because there is graffiti in there from 1979!

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Take in the conflicted messages left for you all over the walls.  God? Satan? Or Manson?

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Ponder the oddly religious graffiti artists that have been through these doors and take in the kitchen.

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And the window treatments.

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And the lovely gardens.

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Then realize that yes, the floor is probably going to collapse.  Go outside and pick some fresh flowers left by your friendly ghosts next door.

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And shake off the creepy feeling that you have ghosts following you around for the rest of your life and go have some drinks on the dock.

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Blow some bubble for the kiddies because, seriously, this entertains them for HOURS.

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Take in the beauty of your surroundings.

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And watch the sun set on yet another perfect day.

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And program the nearest pizza delivery place in your phone in case of an emergency.

The Time I Had The Best Beef Jerky Of My Life. In Cleveland.

Guys, I know what you’re thinking.  Who goes to Cleveland…on purpose?

Well, no one really.  Despite their really awesome marketing campaign here:

And here:

So you might have some preconceived notions of what Cleveland is like…I mean, yes, both times I went it was rainy and gloomy and miserable…and cold.  Very very cold.  BUT!  But I believe misery breeds creativity.  And cold miserable weather breeds the desire to eat.  So creativity + food = some seriously fine food.

And we all know how serious I am about food.

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So you can credit Cleveland’s surprisingly thriving food scene to crappy weather, the desire to eat, and of course Iron Chef Michael Symon.

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I mean, have you BEEN TO LOLA or LOLITA or THE B SPOT??  I have, I have been to all three and this is what I have to say about that.

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Michael Symon revolutionized the food scene in Downtown Cleveland, and now between the hours of 6:00 and 9:30 on any night, you had better have a reservation somewhere or you’re not eating.  Because people are serious about their eating there.  And they don’t have time for your out-of-town notions of just walking in somewhere and getting seated because, “seriously, this is Cleveland, how busy can it be?”  Well, it’s busy.  Real busy.  So plan ahead or you’ll be driving around really strange places outside that few mile radius that feels charming wondering if you should maybe drive through that red light to avoid, I don’t know, perhaps being car-jacked.  (Just kidding, Cleveland!  Sort of.)

So now that you have your dinner reservations for every night you’re in town, you probably want to start planning your days.  There is a lot to do in Cleveland and you want to be sure to fit it all in.

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But you do want to make time to go to The West Side Market.  Because it is glorious.  And you must go directly to J and J Meats and immediately order the beef jerky.  Because its not really beef jerky, it’s more like a juicy steak that you can carry around with you and bite into anytime you feel like it.

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Now, if you aren’t going to drop your vacation plans in the Bahamas to fly immediately over to Cleveland, you can actually order this beef jerky ONLINE!!.

I know, I know.

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