Saturday, November 27, 2010

Crimes, Crumbs & Crazyhatters

Working my way backwards, here are my latest D.C. adventures: 

The Crime and Punishment Museum: This was 50% my idea, 50% groupon persuasion. However, I thought that despite my general aversion to violence and my distaste for sensationalizing it, perhaps there was something that this museum could teach me. Or at the very least it would be interesting to see how they presented Crime & Punishment, i.e. what was the point of the museum. In the end, I have no idea. The voice seemed to change with every room. The beginning seemed like the history of Crime & Punishment going through the Medieval times of torture to the Salem Witch trials, and onto Pirate life, past the Wild West and right into the time of the Mafia and organized crime. Grim, increasingly graphic, and even a little twisted, but I could still handle this section as a type of historical overview. 

The voice was a little bizarre, at first promoting the law enforcement side (a voice I expected to find in this museum), such as the below:

However, there were also gun games and an experiment on trying to crack the safe, seeming to put you in the position of a would-be criminal. There was a recreated sketchy, and dark alley way connecting two rooms in the middle of the museum, I suppose trying to simulate a situation as a potential victim, and the last section was crime labs, returning you to the law enforcement side. I will admit though that, at this point, I did not pay much attention to the last half of the museum, as I was craving fresh air and the exit to the museum.

After reading about serial killers, unsolved mysteries, the gruesome death of mobsters and a variety of other eerie, scary and sickening facts, all my friend and I wanted to do was be out in the daylight and to play with newborn puppies.

With no puppies in sight, we settled for cupcakes. Crumbs is a new bakery (New York origin, I believe) located in downtown DC that has a crazy long menu and an even crazier selection of flavors.

My eye stopped at the grasshopper cupcake (mint, of course), and this sugar rush helped to return the blood that had been drained out of my face from the recent museum experience.

That evening I ventured to drive a Zipcar, a very DC-experience from what I can tell. And since they did not have Smart cars (my favorite) to rent, I rented the next smallest, a Mini Cooper. The Mini was quite fun to drive, especially with a massive sunroof (which I ostensibly opened despite it being nighttime and 40 degrees out).

However, as good of a mission and as handy as Zipcars might be, I realized this wasn't my cup of tea. I rented the Zipcar with the intention of going to Baltimore. This was a bad idea for many reasons: 
  1. The drive included the 495. One must always assume there will be traffic in and around the D.C. area- no matter what time, day, date or decade. And indeed there was, making a 50 minute trip an 1.5 hour trip. 
  2. Cars require parking spots. One must always remember that there are no parking spots in downtown Baltimore, particularly Federal Hill. 30 minutes after driving in circles and contemplating just returning back to DC, I found one and had all of 45 minutes to spend with friends before coming back to DC. 
  3. Even with advanced planning, a drive from Baltimore to DC will always involve delays and with no grace period on returns, you are guaranteed to amass the $50 fee for returning it even 1 minute late.
No, there is a reason I don't have a car. And now I know the reasons I don't even like renting them... 

Crazyhatters, or rather Madhatters, as it were: This fun little restaurant, another Living Social purchase, was a fun experience as well. Unfortunately, my draw to it was the table that is attached to the ceiling, but this is not found in the main room (too much of a liability?) 

Yet, the other upside down fact was that their house beer, Alice (a yummy Yuengling like beer), is not on the menu. This, and the fact that this fairly tame and inconspicuous restaurant turns into a pretty raging club on Friday nights, both entirely amused me. Mad indeed.  

Thursday, November 25, 2010

For me, A Thanksgiving, not a Turkey Day

Not to get mushy, but Thanksgiving is generally a mushy holiday if you take out the football (not a fan) and the turkey (vegetarian). Stripped down, there is really only the giving thanks part of it, which I am OK with. I personally think we need more holidays that focus on gratitude and humility... Anyway, the point is that I have really been looking forward to this Thanksgiving, more than I ever remember looking forward to this particular holiday.

It is partly because I have been wanting the quiet and peace of being around loved ones, but I was also looking forward to the expectation of staying at home. Most everything is closed on Thanksgiving, and whether people are spending all day cooking for the traditional feast or following team after team in the football marathon, everyone is generally locked inside for its entirety. There is something nice about that too.

I have grown a little cautious about the holidays after these last couple years of upheaval and change. Thanksgiving through New Year's is a rare time in the U.S. when love and memories take the place of work and careers as priorities. A great thing really. But it is also the reason that people facing loss or hardship, feel it particularly acutely during these times. After three tumultuous years dealing with losses not only in love but also with friends and even with work, these past years I have been a little timid about the holiday spirit, feeling like holding it at bay could potentially hold at bay the aches of healing wounds.

But I have found myself really happy and at peace this Thanksgiving. Memories still swirl overhead and the ghosts of past Thanksgivings or once-anticipated Thanksgivings still sat at the table. However, sitting with my family and a plate full of food, I was feeling happy and immensely blessed. My healing has reached a critical mass where I can see the past from a safe perspective. And strangely enough, I am grateful for all that has happened. (I am also grateful that this period seems over).

Along the way, in spite of or because of, at times debilitating pain, I have amassed a multitude of amazing people, of unbelievable friends in Italy, Baltimore, Chicago, and D.C. (among other places). Out of a desire to get out of my setting, I visited amazing places like Madrid, Belgrade and San Marino. In taking care of my pain, I have learned to take myself more seriously, realizing that emotional wounds need to be given as much attention as physical ones, that they can't be swept under a rug and be expected to heal. I have learned how to more properly take care of my physical well-being, sleeping when I need to sleep, running when I need to run, eating things that my body tells me I crave for a reason. And I have evoked a mentality of being not only aware of, but thankful and happy for the little things. That sometimes it feels like that is all there is... and that even when feeling that way, those little things are worth a lot.

Not because of wise books or old philosophies, or even Oscar-winning movies or sound parental advice, but because there was nothing else to try: I learned that 24 hours is 24 hours. You can spend it asleep and wishing for things to pass or awake and noticing all that is around and all that can be done with the gift of time. This blog and my last year has been born out of that latter. And I am grateful for that lesson.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Energy Drink: Oakenfold

I have been a little overwhelmed by which adventure to relate in my blog postings, considering I haven't written one in so long, but my evening last night at the Paul Oakenfold show at the 9:30 Club has overridden all my other thoughts.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post on Overcoming the Blah and mentioned how techno can shake you out of any mood and make you move, hop and bounce to its beats. Shamefully, in that post, I did not feature Oakenfold who is, in fact, my favorite DJ and probably the reason that I became interested in techno music to begin with.

Anyway, forgiving myself for that oversight, I continue: Of the many dance clubs I have been to, it is rare that I can say that the DJ was even good, let alone great, (This is especially true in Italy...) But Oakenfold was great. Oakenfold was amazing.

I know the techno skeptics out there argue that, if someone playing around with computers and electronics is even a talent at all, it is certainly not worthy of being in the "musical" category. I am not a musician, a singer or even an avid follower of music/bands. However to that argument, I say: that it is a talent, I am sure.

It is impossible to argue otherwise when you are at a venue where someone like Oakenfold can feel the flow not only of the music, but of the energy -  the energy of the music and the energy of the audience. By seamlessly mixing in a song so that it flows out of the previous, he can change the entire energy of the room either to be calmer or more revved up. Feeling and creating energy: that is a talent.

I think anyone who was in that room (who was there of their own free will) was carefree, happy and hyper. And Oakenfold's talent was to sustain and elevate that feeling for as long as he was on stage (hours!). Some people take drugs to have a sustained high when all you really need is good music and a good DJ. And of course to dance!

I am fully aware that, to those who cannot tolerate techno, I just made myself out to sound like a crazy, new age addict. I am not. But if you believe in yoga, Tai Chi, meditation or even the Wave, for crying out loud, you believe in the power of energy. Techno is another form of that. Jump and dance around for 2 hours to music you love, let the past jiggle loose and fall out of your head, laugh at how crazy you might look to others, and then come argue with me about it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

November: The most wonderful time of the year

Sometimes being a full-time worker AND a full-time tourist makes it hard to be even a part-time blogger. So though I have been actively exploring all parts of D.C. and have crossed off another boatload of sights on my list, I have had little free time to relive these experiences through blogging.

However, my added excuse is that this has been the most beautiful November on record. And because I am already one with a virtual phobia of being stuck indoors, in lieu of a proper update, I will instead give you a glimpse into why I could not be bottled up by a ceiling and four walls when the outdoors looks like this:

A Rainbow-painted Tree near the Monuments

Perfectly blue skies over Rock Creek Park

Fire-orange Trees at Eastern Market

Cherry red trees at the National Zoo

My walk home over the Duke Ellington Bridge under a Full Moon.

Sometimes just being outdoors, enjoying the weather, is the best kind of tourism.

Monday, November 15, 2010

High Seas & A Barrel of Rum: A Trip to Puerto Rico

"Puerto Rico, my heart's devotion, let it sink back in the ocean. Always the hurricanes blowing..."

Since buying my ticket to Puerto Rico, I have had that West Side Story song stuck in my head, and I have to say that, in retrospect, I hope it didn't subconsciously taint my experience...

Traveling is traveling. So of course, I loved it. Unfortunately, however, Puerto Rico had a couple things stacked against making it the ideal trip: 1) It was rainy season, and 2) Up until the moment of departure, Hurricane Tomas had been threatening to show us why. Not that this is the fault of the Island; it was more our own fault for choosing November than it was Puerto Rico's for being located in hurricane territory, but we hadn't realized how much of the activities really depended on not even necessarily beach weather, but just good, non-rain, weather.

The other item stacked against it (again not the island's fault) is that my itchy travel feet usually require that the trip be outside of the country in which I am becoming restless. I was hoping that Puerto Rico, though technically American soil, would be foreign-enough, with its Spanish language, island atmosphere and old colonial style city. It turns out that there were just enough fast food chains, of every type, to make it hard to forget that I was not in any one of the 50 United States...

Old San Juan
Don't get me wrong though! There were many, many things I loved about the island. The colors of the buildings in Old San Juan were magnificent; not one color was left out. The blue-hue of the cobblestone-type streets. The salsa, bachata and merengue music on majority of the radio stations and emanating, it seemed, from the buildings themselves. And the lovely people who were kind with my botchy-Spanish and refused to treat us like outsiders.

As per my usual, a trip to the grocery store also afforded me much pleasure. I bought all kinds of things that, though housed in the same type of mega, multi-aisled, traditional American supermarket, you cannot readily find in the mainland U.S., of which, tropical fruit was high on the list. I bought mini bananas (do these have a proper name?) and a papaya which, turns out, is too big for one person to eat in a single setting.

I also loved the different plant life: birds of paradise, ginseng flowers, palm trees... all those helped to feel like I had left one world to join another. For this reason, the island's rainforest, El Yunque, was at the top of this list. It did not disappoint.

El Yunque
There were waterfalls, beautiful yellow and red tropical flowers, lush overlooks from various elevated points, and though you could not see them, the island's famous coqui frogs serenaded you with their unique sound, in fact: "coqui- coqui." Rain did keep us off most of the trails. It also kept us from my other desire for the trip, the bioluminesecnt bays. These bays, only found in a few places in the world, are ones lit up at night by micro-organisms living in the water. You can kayak through the bays at night and have the water glow just because of their presence. It sounded immensely cool, and I was pretty disappointed that Tomas's remnants made the idea less enjoyable, if even feasible.

Mallorca sweet bread
However, for me, the important things on a trip are the company, which was unbeatable, and the little daily things: getting to try a mallorca sweet bread with my caffe con leche for breakfast one morning...

Seafood Mofongo
having mofongo, a mashed green plantain dish that houses either meat or seafood, for dinner in a pretty kitschy, over-the-top Puerto Rican restaurant one evening...

Casa Bacardi
and taste-testing various rums at the Bacardi Distillery... Each of these were enough to make my trip a success.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day in D.C.

My list of 365 things to do in D.C. is filling out nicely, and at last count, I had done approximately 48% of the items listed. One new item that I will add to the list is a visit to the American Red Cross Headquarters near the White House. The building, a National Historic Landmark, reportedly has one of the largest set of Tiffany windows still in their original state. These windows demonstrate the organization's values: hope, faith, charity and love. The building also houses art and artifacts collected by the Red Cross since its inception in 1881.

If you, unlike me, have off today for Veteran's Day, today is a good day to visit (at least the outside, the inside needs advance scheduling) because they are hosting a card signing event for the men and women serving in the military. Their goal is to collect one million cards by December 10. So make sure to stop by, and while you are it, stay for the Amy Grant concert at 2:30. The event will be held at the ARC Headquarters at 430 17th Street. It is a good way to honor Veteran's Day and learn more about this great organization.

Some other Veteran's Day events in D.C.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Navigating Rome- Some Tips

I haven't traveled out of the country in about two months, which means I am getting itchy feet, and I am starting to pick up on talk of Rome like a radio picking up stray signals.

Luckily, I will be traveling tomorrow. However, I do not yet know when my next trip to Italia will be. In the meantime, I have amassed a couple different videos that I feel would be useful to potential travelers to Italy and to Rome in particular.

These videos go from very useful, to somewhat useful/somewhat funny, to not useful but funny.

Knowing full well how much I love Italy, with all its faults, issues, hang-ups and insanities, I hope that the last two videos do not offend any of my dear Italian friends. My philosophy, however, is that it is worthwhile and even healthy to laugh at oneself.

Useful: A Great Comprehensive Guide to Rome's Public Transportation System

Created by: Rome Walks and narrated by my friend, Jen!

Useful but Silly: A Guide to Parking in Rome: A funny take on it, but it has some truth. You have to be creative when looking for parking in the Eternal City.

Not Useful but Amusing: How Italy differs from the Rest of Europe in terms of driving, parking etc. You might have seen this in email forwards, but it is worth sharing, and like any form of satire, it does have some truth to it.

Italians vs. Europeans Bruno Bozzetto

Any other tips that you have found useful for navigating Rome?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Reawakening to Flavor

Lately, I have been in a bit of a rut with food. I have been eating strictly things coming out of a can (mainly chic peas) and a box (usually couscous or pasta). Add olive oil, salt, pepper and voila: lunch and/or dinner is ready! If I am feeling extra creative, I add some oregano.

So after a surprisingly long period of this, this past weekend, I hit my threshold with oil and oregano-flavored dishes, and I went a little wild.

On Friday, I went to a Korean restaurant, Woomi Garden, in the suburbs of D.C. accompanied by two Korean-American friends. This gave me the cushioning to be a little more adventurous with my dinner choice, as they could consult me on what each dish tasted like and what ingredients I might want to avoid.

It is typically somewhat difficult to find both authentic AND vegetarian Korean food, outside of Bibimbap (which I had experienced via food truck) and Kimchee. So the selection process took awhile. Seeing as I am not a true vegetarian, (I eat fish and some seafood so I think pescatarian is perhaps the right word?), I did have a few other alternatives on the menu and, after a fairly lengthy decision process, I chose SoonDooBoo, a spicy tofu and seafood stew.

SoonDooBoo: Tofu & Seafood Stew

This was adventurous for me in two ways: 1) I had never had, seen or heard of it, and 2) I fear calamari and squid-like creatures. Knowing full well that the seafood found in the stew was, in fact, calamari, clams (not a fan) and oysters (neutral at best), I persevered with my choice. And overall, I did indeed like it. We had asked them to take some pity on me with the spice-level, however, we shouldn't have because I do LOVE spicy food, and I could tell that the dish was clearly lacking that flavor. I also tried (for probably the 100th time) to stomach the taste of calamari, and still could not get over the rubbery taste. So I kept my spoon close to the surface of the soup, enjoying the tofu, broth and what little spice there was.

Korean side dishes
In the end, I would probably have been just as happy with a bowl of rice (I love Korean rice!) and the side dishes that comes with all things ordered. But that was not the point; I was on a mission to reawaken my taste buds.

The adventure continued on Tuesday for a Mexican "Day of the Dead" celebration at Oyamel in Penn Quarter. I was shocked by how many interesting, off-the-beaten-path, ingredients there were on the menu. Again, it took me an excessive amount of time to read through all the dishes and discern what would be daring but not dumb, given my personal biases for food. And again, I was lucky enough to be accompanied by a Mexican friend who helped me navigate the menu and vividly describe what the ingredients might equate to in terms of taste. Being tapas-sized, it was also fun to pick a couple different dishes to explore.

So our line-up was Papas al mole (french fries with mole, a almond, chili, cacao sauce that apparently has over 30 ingredients in it), Queso fundido con tequila (melted cheese with tequila! yum) and Arroz de huitlacoche con queso fresco (rice with"Mexican corn truffles"). This was my adventurous choice as "corn truffle" is a delightful marketing ploy to describe a fungus that grows on corn. This sounds particularly gross until you remember that a mushroom is a fungus as well. So it is just like ordering mushrooms, I told myself, and it did in fact taste like a type of truffle. So, though it was mentally hard to get my mind around it, my taste buds were pleased with whatever it was labeled. (Thank God I didn't read the description of it before I had it though!)

Papas al mole (left) & Queso fundido (right)
My other adventure was Nopal, i.e. cactus. I have had cactus juice, and I have had breaded cactus in a burrito. However, I had never had cactus salad nor plain grilled cactus, which were both on the menu. I was intrigued. My friend, however, warned me that in light of my aversion to all things slimy, I should perhaps reconsider eating cactus, whose inside is essentially the definition of slim. She instead convinced the waitress to bring us a sample of Nopal, and a few minutes later I was munching on a tiny bowl of plain, cold, square-cut cactus, as if I had just gotten the munchies and cut of a piece off of my office plant. The sliminess was tolerable, and I even thought that, with some adornments or cooking, it might be something I would consider ordering. So it is on reserve for a future occasion.


All this was topped with one of the most delicious drinks I have ever had (on par with my mojito experience at Cuba Libre); it was called a "Mexican Smash," and it tasted like a version of a margarita, but one that I loved. (Typically, margaritas are not my thing). Made of Siembra Azul tequila, agave syrup, lime, hoja santa (don't know) and roasted agave heart (which was the kicker in my decision to order it), it was a heavenly mix of ingredients I still don't quite understand. Finally, I think my taste buds heard the alarm clock.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Letting Sanity and Fear Rule the Weekend

What better weekend than Halloween weekend to talk about sanity and fear? I, like most other people living in D.C. it seems, attended Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear this past Saturday. Metro and masses kept us from getting to the National Mall in time to be poised with a view of the stage. So instead, a friend and I walked around to admire all the sane people with their witty, entertaining, obvious and/or astute signs.

Here were some of my favorites:

Quite possibly my favorite of the day.

Photo courtesy of friend, Fiona

And then there were the costumes. I surmise that the costumes were, at least in part, attributable to it being Halloween weekend, but I could not back that statement with 100% certainty.
Barney?? I'll grant that my definition of sane is a little broader than most,
but I don't see the obvious connection.

Though I did not wear a costume this year (neither for the Rally nor for Halloween), I did find other ways of celebrating:

Welcome back Count Chocula!

My Pumpkins. N.B. without a proper carving knife, toothpicks
work wonders for keeping stars and heads in the right position.

Insanity strikes: Decorating little pumpkins on Saturday,
à la Martha Stewart, though she would have disowned us as students.

Pumpkins had a vital role in Cinderella: "Your coach milady." 


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