A Venezuelan VIP: Very Important Petroleum

Caracas, Venezuela - Petrol PlaygroundNo more than five minutes after checking into my hotel in Caracas, Venezuela did I encounter this (hopefully) fanciful playground.  To give the designers’ – was one of them Señor Biv? – some credit, the most realistic aspect of it is the tropical-looking bird…perhaps to match the invigorating skyline.  Bad joke in tres, dos…did they use oil-based paint?

Petroleum, a child‘s best friend.

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A Tale of Two Consular Offices, with a Bonus

One of my favorite streets in Jakarta seems to have other fans in Manhattan too:New York, USA, Indonesian Consulate - Car Seat (Jalan Kursi Mobil)Ironically, it was at the Consulate of Indonesia where I was able to test out the latest in household minivanization.  On unpredictable Fridays and Saturdays throughout the year, you can attend free Indonesian and gamelan lessons right at the consulate.

I went today for the first time as a student, and one of the senior officials greeted me, offered me tea and put the tv on while I waited for the rest of the class to get there.  Terima kasih (thank you) for the welcome, bapak (mister)!

Other unexpected greetings at consular offices worldwide include sipping tea with the Pakistani gentry at their embassy in Jakarta and…ok, you’re right.  These are microcosms of bureaucracy, not known for their hospitality.

Though, in all my years of traveling, which one country has had the least inviting offices?

Dhaka, Bangladesh - US EmbassyLet’s go with the US.  That’s the US embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  Doesn’t it just scream to both foreigners and citizens alike “please come visit?”  Did they have the TSA design it?

Bonus: Since Indonesia seems to be a theme here, let’s throw in the Embassy of Russia in Jakarta as a nominee for “most unusual diplomatic architecture:”

Jakarta, Indonesia - Embassy of Russia

Whether you’re an expat or lost – or both – what’s your opinion of consulates/embassies and those that dwell within?


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Event Review: Brooklyn Crush Wine and Artisanal Food Festival, Autumn Edition

Disclaimer: In exchange for a review of Brooklyn Crush, I received one entry ticket.

On Saturday, November 14, I attended the Brooklyn Crush Wine and Artisanal Food Festival held at Industry City in Sunset Park, New York City, an event which I wrote a preview about earlier last week.

Brooklyn Crush Wine & Artisanal Food Festival, New York, 14NOV2015 (2)First, a hint of background on Industry City. It was founded on Gowanus Bay in 1895 as Bush Terminal, and just as its retrofitted self is now, it was created as a hub of manufacturing and trade.


I expected the venue to be larger and the food vendors all to be from Brooklyn – this wasn’t the case – but I also correctly figured that the wineries represented would have included those from the Finger Lakes (upstate) and the North Fork (Suffolk County, Long Island).  Well, 1 out of 3 is a failing grade, so I’ll drown my sorrows in a bottle of Riesling.  Or a glass of…

Brooklyn Crush Wine & Artisanal Food Festival, New York, 14NOV2015 (9)…Hetta glögg (spiced wine, from western Scandinavia), which as far as I recall, was made of cardamom, cinnamon and orange peel, among other ingredients.  It was served both hot and cold, though I’d probably always tend towards the former method if I also lived where the sun was only out for three hours a day in the winter.

As for the food…

Brooklyn Crush Wine & Artisanal Food Festival, New York, 14NOV2015 (3)A sample of the coconut espresso short rib sandwich, topped with pickled red onions, at manila social in Williamsburg.  I spoke with the restaurant’s affable owner; ask her about the Filipino Consulate.  They also host various art and design exhibitions.

Oh, and that link for the restaurant leads to an order form for ube (purple yam) donuts.  That was deliberate on my part.

Brooklyn Crush Wine & Artisanal Food Festival, New York, 14NOV2015 (4)Miti miti, located a few blocks south of the Barclays Center, combines Mediterranean and Latin flavors in their kitchen and at the bar.  I asked the server if they had any samples.  The response was “no,” followed by “sure.”  On the toothpick is a bacon-wrapped date with bleu cheese, and the empanada has lamb, olives and raisins.  Can’t forget to mention the radish, or rábano, in Spanish.

Brooklyn Crush Wine & Artisanal Food Festival, New York, 14NOV2015 (6)NO SUGAR!  Amazing that it has to be mentioned as a selling point for hot sauce.  I’m in the wrong country.

Anyway, this Buffalo-native has three choices– scotch bonnet and ginger, red habanero and coffee and jalapeño and lime.  Conveniently, she had all three flavors available to sample, but I only wanted the spiciest.  Though, as none of the three left me temporarily mute, I’m on-board for all three.

Brooklyn Crush Wine & Artisanal Food Festival, New York, 14NOV2015 (5)In the foreground, ‘nduja, a Calabrian (Italy) pork-based spread with a mix of spices and roasted peppers.  In the background, the Industry City-based Ends Meat sampler platter.  So much for last week’s expo.  Good stuff, and I’ll be darned if I missed a baguette seller next door.

Brooklyn Crush Wine & Artisanal Food Festival, New York, 14NOV2015 (8)

Where are the sour ones?!, I asked.  Those are too common, but try some “Smokey Siennas,” “Everythings” and “Holiday Thymes.”  As long as you don’t recommend anything sweet – that means no bread and butters – I can see an addiction form.  Case-in-point, they gave me a jar of Holiday Thyme less than 48 hours ago; free refills, anyone?  I reuse the juice as a salad dressing too.

Also, I had a good chat with Randy, one of the co-founders of Backyard Brine.  He told me about how, in order to sell shelf-stable cured foods, specimens need to be sent upstate in order to have their pH levels tested.  Additionally, out in Suffolk County, in addition to cucumbers, they sell at farmers’ markets their takes on preserved and pickled foods from around the world.

Brooklyn Crush Wine & Artisanal Food Festival, New York, 14NOV2015 (10)Based in Sunset Park, Granola Lab was set up specifically to cater to my in-flight snacking needs.  Imagine that.  Alex, the owner, had a few varieties at-the-ready: Activation Energy with hazelnuts, chocolate and coffee, Elemental Formula with pecans, maple syrup and sunflower seeds, Cranberry Cashew Compound with get, a and hint and Get Gingersnapping, one that definitely appeals to my spice-raving palate.  She gave me a sample “Brewers” granola bar made with barley malt fetched from a local brewery.  Say Alex, would you be up for creating a granola made of this?

For more information on this year’s event, feel free to contact me or the Brooklyn Crush team.

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Event Review: 2015 Kosherfest

Disclaimer: In exchange for a Saturday morning review of the 2015 Kosherfest, I was offered a press pass.

Kosherfest Expo, Secaucus, 11 November 2015 (22)

The 27th Annual Kosherfest, purportedly the world’s largest B2B (business-to-business) expo for things kosher, was held November 10-11 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, New Jersey, just west of New York City.  I say purportedly because I don’t really, but considering that it’s the NYC-area, the statement has merit.

First order of business…what’s kosher?  Oh, that’s a long story; here’s a synopsis.  Very generally speaking, based on the Jewish scripture, the Torah: no pork or shellfish – so they’ve already lost my vote; no combining of dairy and animal products; and a ritualized slaughter of animals.  Also, owls are a no-go.  If you’re read over the long-list of things interdicted, you won’t be too surprised to find that kosher goods are not cheap.  Lastly and quite confusingly, a google search returns nutritional info for the word “kosher.”

Kosherfest Expo, Secaucus, 11 November 2015 (7)I didn’t know what al-chet, so I’ll share it with you.  It is a confession of sins said ten times on Yom Kippur, the most important day on a Jewish calendar.

How would I compare this to the NY Summer Fancy Food Shows?…

-Kosherfest had security checkpoints
-Kosherfest took no issue with people taking out samples (within reason)-I was craving the Fancy Food Show the whole time
-Korea had a surprising presence at both (fish paste, anyone?)

With the background out of the way, let’s delve into some products and tastings that were available:

Kosherfest Expo, Secaucus, 11 November 2015 (19)What’s a Jewish food expo without Poland’s most famous contribution to the New York breakfast scene?  These bagels hail from the Bronx.

Kosherfest Expo, Secaucus, 11 November 2015 (3)Granola made from matzoh, unleavened flatbread.  Synonymous with cardboard?  That’s up for debate.  Whether or not you’re a fan, I can’t say this granola was worth a second glance.  Perhaps it was a “new product winner” simply because all new products get rewarded?  Build their confidence.

Kosherfest Expo, Secaucus, 11 November 2015 (4)Gefilte fish, traditionally a Passover appetizer, consists of ground fish mixed with bread crumbs and egg, then boiled in fish stock and served with horseradish.  Compliments of Eastern Europe.

Kosherfest Expo, Secaucus, 11 November 2015 (12)Teiglach, I’ve never heard of your doughy, honey-covered, slightly ginger-infused existence.  The teeth are very thankful for that, but the taste buds were missing out.

Kosherfest Expo, Secaucus, 11 November 2015 (23)Loot.  The fountain of health brand of hummus – in this case, Sesame and Ginger and Greek Olive – in spite of using canola oil, is still one of the better store-bought versions I’ve tried.  Thyme-specked lavash, an unleavened Armenian flatbread made in a clay-brick oven (tonir, in Armenian), was also a good find.  The outlier is the Korean Alkali salt.  Yes, the token Korean booth was a surprise, considering how vital a role the sea plays in overall Korean cuisine.  So, just remove some marine by-products and you’re back on the playing field.

For more information on this year’s event, feel free to contact me or the Kosherfest team.

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Preview: Brooklyn Crush Wine and Artisanal Food Festival, Autumn Edition

This Saturday, November 14th, Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York City will play host to the Brooklyn Crush Wine & Artisanal Food Festival: Autumn Edition.

brooklyn-crush-autumn-2015-updated-bannerSource: NY Wine Events

Events held in NYC can usually be described as urbane urban mosh pits, so NY Wine Events gives us the courtesy of two different sessions – 3pm to 6pm, and then 8pm to 11pm – during which we can stuff ourselves – both literally and figuratively – with the best that Brooklyn kitchens have to offer.  Oh, and if you haven’t guessed by now, you’ll be able to sample from among 200+ reds and whites…wine, that is, all while live jazz plays to help you forget that you’ll often be queuing up.

There will be a slew of cheeses, meats, dips, sweets, and even things for people making up diets on the spot…it is Brooklyn, you know.  For those hankering for a bit more than a teaspoon-sized sample, “The Supper Section” will allow attendees – for an additional charge – to try from among four different Brooklyn-based establishments: Fedoroff’s South Philly Italian Sandwiches, Ends Meat, manila social, and miti miti serving Latin-influenced fare.

Who knows, maybe we’ll even get to cross paths at this fall’s Brooklyn Crush.

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Restaurant Review: The National, Manhattan (New York)

Note: A colleague treated me to dinner at The National, located in the The Benjamin hotel in Manhattan, NYC.  I’m writing this review as a courtesy.

The National_NYC_Exterior

Source: http://www.thenationalnyc.com/Gallery.aspx

The National, located at 50th and Lex (east side of the street), right by Grand Central, is just one restaurant in the American Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian collection.  Which is to say…I’m only a fan of the original Japanese show, though I’d be GLAD to try food prepared on both.

The restaurant offers breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, and on Sunday evenings, a variety of live music.

Restaurant-Review-The-National-Manhattan-New-York-City (1)Upon first glance, I was surprised to see a diverse list of meals (and in some respects, ingredients) flooding the menu.  I should have questioned why the same menu offers both Thai-inspired mussels with coconut milk and olive salsa, but the hunger pangs figuratively uttered “let it be.”

Restaurant-Review-The-National-Manhattan-New-York-City (2)To start, I tried the octopus with fingerling potatoes, pea greens, Kalamata olives, and olive oil*.  If grilled octopus is on the menu, I’m already sold.  Everything else on the plate is but a distraction, and that includes the plate itself.  But I’d totally order this pulpa – octopus – again, even though I incorrectly read the menu…

Restaurant-Review-The-National-Manhattan-New-York-City (3)There’s an asterisk next to “olive oil” because I erred.  In fact, it was a bacon-lemongrass broth.  Fool me once.  Regardless, I asked for some bread to sop it up; the walnut loaf was particularly swell.

Restaurant-Review-The-National-Manhattan-New-York-City (4)For the main, I tried the “Ugly” Burger, served with pickled jalapeños, house-made pickles, fries and ketchup, NTL – I couldn’t figure it out at first (it’s the abbreviation of the restaurant), so I thought it was nougat, tomato and lettuce – and at my request, Fresno chilies.  Though neither the fries nor the burger were that warm, I was really into the fries.  Also, the pickles were too sweet for me, but the rest of the burger was still inviting.

Not pictured is the seasonal butternut squash risotto, which my colleague ordered.  I didn’t order it due to its hearty nature, but it was certainly a highlight of the meal.

Restaurant-Review-The-National-Manhattan-New-York-City (5)For dessert, we split a lemon tart with Chantilly cream and pomegranate.  The tea was green tea with a hint of cherry blossom.  If the crust had been better, it would’ve been another clean plate.  The other desserts didn’t stand out as much, but we chose this one for the lemon-pomegranate combo, and because I didn’t know what Chantilly cream was.

When we sat down at around 8:30pm, the place was bustling.  Even an hour later, for a Monday night, it was hopping.  It wasn’t as loud as I had anticipated, though if you live in New York City, you may have already forgotten that something “quiet” was ever a thing.

Would I go back?: Sure.  I’d check out their lunch menu, perhaps during different seasons too.  Prices reflect The National’s Manhattan location, so lunch would be kinder on the wallet, without a bait-and-switch in the back of the house.


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Want to Learn Polish? Do It Yourself.

If there’s any silver lining to this post, it’s that I’d find no trouble doing the laundry in Poland.

Even though I doubt finding an English-speaker in Warsaw or Krakow would prove difficult, as a perpetual student of languages what better place is there to practice my three words of Polish than Poland?  (If you said “the UK,” “Chicago” or “the Greenpoint neighborhood in Brooklyn,” you get half a point.)

By the way, just what are those three words that, until today, were merely two words?
The first, learned long ago, is szmata (shma-ta).  It means “rag.”  Don’t say that to any woman’s face.
Then, we have dziękuję (jen-koo-ya), or “thank you.”  Use only as directed.

Finally, we have today’s addition to the phrasebook:

Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York City, USA- Samoobslugowa (Polish) LaundromatAs a non-speaker of Polish, I naturally expected that “Samoobslugowa” was the name of this Greenpoint laundromat.  (I also thought it was Somali, but then I realized that I wasn’t in Minneapolis anymore.)  Maybe it is.  Regardless, I wanted to know  A) whether it was a word or just a name and B) the meaning of it.

Google informed me that I was simply another philistine unaware that the spelling on the sign is phonetic; it was written that way so non-Polish folks with dirty clothes could pronounce itSamoobsługa is defined as “self-service,” and the letter ł is pronounced – or mispronounced – like the w in “water.”

How’s your Polish?


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