Have you ever had Mandarin Islamic Chinese food? Did you know there are an estimated 20 million Muslims who live in China? These questions percolated as my taste buds marveled at the unusual combinations of lamb, cumin and other spice mixtures that seemed so new to me. I was first taken to Old Mandarin Islamic by a mom on my son’s soccer team. It was a rainy fall day and the boys and spectators were soaked and chilled. The hot pot beckoned, and I was up for an adventure. Way out in the Sunset district in San Francisco near the beach, this small hole in the wall offers not only a unique culinary experience but a geography and culture lesson in Chinese history. I returned this Sunday to pick up takeout and once again I was blown away. Signs in Arabic welcome the diners as well as the Chinese Sabado Gigante-esque/ quasi American idol show playing in the corner on the big screen TV. Familiar was the standard Chinese restaurant decorations, but unusual were the plaques with sayings from the Koran (I assume). Of course there is no pork on the menu and the lamb is Halal. It seems like the whole family is cooking in the back kitchen and you can see them in action as you traipse through to go to the restroom. The hot pot is a fun diner participation dish, much like fondue or Korean BBQ. Continue reading »
Couchsurfing.com is closing in on one million couches surfed; no small feat since this free, internet based hospitality service launched in 2004. With more than 230 countries represented and almost 55-thousand cities with couches to crash on, one can travel the globe on a budget, meet cool people and even get some insider travel tips. The mission of the innovative site is: Participate in Creating a Better World, One Couch at a Time. For a small fee, that includes a personal vouching system, (much like E-Bay) members can coordinate their free accommodations with like-minded folks from Brazil to Belgium, Israel to Indonesia. I haven’t officially joined but I do recall staying in a lady’s home in Prague soon after the Velvet Revolution. The sheets were the whitest and crispest I’d ever seen and the generosity immense. Tea bags were still precious and used numerous times. Breakfast was a homemade, simple type of pound cake… I’ll never forget that experience. In broken sign language and French, we learned that our hostess was a ‘peepee lady’ at an Opera House. Continue reading »
Maybe I am feeling like a fish with the rain pouring down or maybe I am just having my monthly fish taco frenzy, whatever the reason I am fast becoming a connoisseur of the tasty Mexican treat.
I love Mexican food, but sometimes all the rice and beans and heavy meat can weigh you down. Don’t get me wrong, I love burritos, but I have a hard time not finishing a whole one in a sitting, as much as I’d like to take half home for lunch the next day.
As an East Coast friend said when she first visited me in San Francisco in the early ’90s when our burritos arrived: “That looks like an infant.” She proceeded to place the wrapped burrito by her toned dancer’s belly and question how all that would fit in there. Miraculously it all fit! Continue reading »
My husband just returned from a business trip to Vegas. Given the economy, according to his report, Sin City was not buzzing. I jokingly asked him if he hit any buffets and his eyes rolled. He said it had been a while since he had seen such a crop of obese people and consequently he ate very little while away.
Since I was cloistered at home with two boys sick with a stomach bug, it seemed like our entire family was on a peculiar diet. This discussion and my secret obsession with a somewhat trashy/voyeuristic reality show called The Biggest Loser got me to thinking about the obesity epidemic once again. Continue reading »
One of the benefits (if there are such things) to the current economic implosion is the sudden affordability of services or destinations that were once out of reach for many. Iceland went figuratively bankrupt this fall when the banking crisis pulled the rug out from under the country’s economy, and Icelanders needed to scramble to find ways to make ends meet.
One way was to push tourism up the scale of importance and hope to draw visitors to pump needed foreign currency into the ailing system. According to Madeline Drexler in the Los Angeles Times, this produced a clever promotion from the tourism industry: Halfpriceland, the new affordable Iceland. And it turns out to be true. The U.S. dollar trades for almost twice the number of krona it did a year ago, making prices comparable with those in the U.S. Continue reading »
2009 has only just begun and few feel capable of predicting how the struggling economy will affect travel, beyond deep discounts. The landscape has changed and we all need to be on our toes to get the best deals. I came across an article on the Baltimore Sun website which offered five helpful New Year’s resolutions for the savvy vacationer:
I will beware of bankruptcies.
I will figure on fees.
I will get an edge through e-mail.
I will diligently monitor the U.S. dollar.
I will plan ahead to get a passport.
Did you know you might be charged for more legroom on flights? Another obvious, but often overlooked issue, the fact that the fluctuating dollar could drastically raise or reduce the cost of a hotel room abroad. Or, that on June 1, tighter border rules take effect. Most Americans returning by sea or land from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean will need a passport, a passport card or other secure document. Check out the article: Vow to make the most of your 2009 travel dollar to find out more about this list of travel tips for 2009.
Every year in December, my husband and I have the discussion about a tree. I have this vision, as a young girl, of going to New Jersey to cut one down every year. This was quite a trek from Manhattan and made for great memories. It’s a bit of a Laura Ingalls Wilder fantasy but, hey, could be worse. So we argue about “killing a tree” for Christmas, something that didn’t occur to me in the twentieth century.
I understand and share the concern for the planet but I also love the whole ritual of setting up the fresh tree. As a compromise, for the last few years we’ve bought a live tree in a pot and put it outside for the rest of the year, the idea being we would re-use it again the next year. Well, for the first time in four years, our tree survived the year and is resplendent in our living room trimmed and beautiful. So, when I suggested we go to this fabulous Christmas tree farm for a day of fun, giant swings, wreath-making, picnic, tractor ride, bonfire and marshmallows, like every year I got the same grumpy answer. I persevered.
It was the day after Thanksgiving and with stretched out bellies we threw our camping gear in our car, made sure we had hats, gloves, plenty of cocoa and we headed out of the city towards the Sonoma Coast. My husband had to work so I was initially reluctant to join our friends on the impromptu trip. I’m loath to admit it, but despite my claims of equality and the notion that I can do most anything I put my mind to, I usually wind up caring for the kids and organizing food when we go camping. Sometimes I over-think the food and this time I just raided the fridge and cabinets and grabbed what we had.
The counterculture of Greenwich Village in New York City is legendary, although these days you’re more apt to see downsized Wall Streeters roaming around at midday rather than artists or activists. History is cyclical, however, and Washington Square Park, the epicenter of many social, political and cultural movements, is being renovated and of course there is a controversy.
The diehard Villagers still have a huge voice in the politics of the neighborhood. The park is a landmark, 10 acres in size and nearly 200 years old. It has seen hangings, burials, countless graduations, generations of kids, dogs, joggers, seniors, and drug dealers—you name it, it has happened in THE PARK, as I called it growing up on its West side. Continue reading »
Studying Abroad is one of the most expansive experiences a young student can have, not only living and studying in a country, but being able to travel widely while away from home. I was lucky when I studied in France many moons ago because the dollar was strong and a semester abroad was actually less expensive than a semester on campus in Connecticut.
Nearly every weekend I took off for London, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Holland or Italy. I remember sewing a Canadian patch on my backpack before a foray through Europe because of the palpable dislike for Reaganomics and small acts of terrorism against Americans: small potatoes compared to travelers’ fears today. Continue reading »
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