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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thing 151: Amsterdam Falafel

"Hey Fancy, what's a...fall-off...fluff...falafel?" This question was lobbed over the cubicle wall of my office on Monday, an innocent enough question (and let's just ignore for a moment that my work nickname is Fancy).

I sprung to my feet and darted over to my coworker, eyes wide in disbelief. "What's a falafel?! Grab your wallet, we're going on a field trip right now."

Well, the field trip had to wait until the next day due to such intrusions as appointments and conference calls, but the next day at lunch time, we piled into a coworker's car and road tripped from Capitol Hill to 18th St, in Adams Morgan, for some Amsterdam Falafel.
I figured, if you've never had falafel before -- fried patties made of chick peas -- then you should sample the very best falafel available for your first try. And as far as I'm concerned, Amsterdam has the very best falafel in DC (I had an ex-boyfriend who said it was the best falafel in North America, a claim I can neither endorse nor deny).

What makes Amsterdam so good? Well, for one thing, they specialize. There are three items on their menu: falafel, fries and brownies. That's it. You can decide if you want a small or regular falafel sandwich, on white or wheat pita, but that's about it. However, if you require options in your life, look no further than the enormous toppings bar to the left of the register. Just as M'Dawg had toppings galore, Amsterdam provides you with a couple dozen options for topping your falafels, all of them tantalizing and delicious.

The only advice I gave to my falafel novices was not to go too crazy at the toppings bar. It's an easy mistake to make -- a little of this, a little of that, and then suddenly you have 12 different flavors, not all of which are going to taste all that when smushed together.
For me? I favor tahini, baba ganoush and cucumber salad. Lyz went with cucumbers, red cabbage slaw and tatziki. Kristi opted for hummus and dark, caramelized roasted eggplant. And just look at these happy first timers!

Amsterdam also makes exceptional fries, and provides "garlic creme" (aka garlic mayonnaise, but I normally don't like mayonnaise, and I love this "creme" stuff) for dipping. They are twice fried and deliciously crispy and salty.

The falafel newbie was happy and full, and already plotting what her next topping combination would be.
Nearby: Peyote Cafe or the Duplex Diner

Friday, May 15, 2009

Thing 150: Politics and Prose

"We're going to have a reading tonight," Colson Whitehead told those assembled. "It will be fun, edifying, and very, very post-black." He gives the final two words grave emphasis. The audience laughs knowingly, because they all read the New York Times Review of Books religiously.

Welcome to nerd paradise. I am right at home.

Politics and Prose is indeed a paradise for bookworms and intellectuals, an oasis in the dry landscape of chain bookstores. This is among the last of the feisty breed known as the independent bookstore, and one of the reasons they stay relevant is by hosting really excellent authors of both fiction and non, on a regular basis. They also have a great, great selection of books (hard for me to not buy everything I lay my eyes on) and a cafe downstairs. I can't speak personally for the coffee or food, but the coffee in the audience smelled amazing, which is a good sign.

I was excited to be there to see Colson Whitehead, and author I much admire, in particular for his first book, The Intuitionist, which I still think about when I'm in an elevator. In a rather slim novel he spun an alternate reality in which elevator inspectors formed a brotherhood, an exclusive clique, and the two competing schools of inspection were at constant odds. It sounds convoluted, even silly, but the end product was a rich and beautiful metaphor for race in America.

Now he read from Sag Harbor, his newest book, and what he calls "autobiographical" (not quite an autobiography, and certainly not a memoir. As he told us in answer to a question I asked "It would be so easy to write a proposal if I was in a plane crash and had to eat the other people I was stranded with...So, when something real happens in my life, I'll write a memoir, but until then, I have to rely on other things."). Dressed in skinny, skinny hipster jeans, a vest and a tie, and long, thin dreadlocks, Whitehead kept us rapt and laughing, alternating between his strong, poetic prose, and his side comments that kept us laughing, especially his "VISUAL AID."

If you caught his piece of short fiction in the New Yorker, that was a chapter excerpted from the book. It's about a group of black teenage boys, who vacation on Long Island during the summer, spending the weeks by themselves while their parents are working in the city. They get into various shenanigans. That's about it. "You may have heard in some reviews," he told us, impishly, "there's not a lot of plot. Not a lot happens. Just like in Ulysses, by James Joyce. Except my book is shorter, so there's that."

He read two sections from the book, one about the glory and progress of frozen foods, the other about the haircuts his main character received from his father. What I was most struck by, which had escaped me when I read The Intuitionist, or Apex Hides the Hurt, or his short fiction, is that Colson Whitehead writes poetry. His words are forceful, each individually chosen for meaning, layers, sound, tone and cadence. When he reads, he reads with the crescendo of a poetry slammer, each line building and then abruptly fading away. Having written it himself, he is uniquely aware of the invisible line breaks, the ones that had to be sacrificed so his novel could be "fiction" and not "poetry." This is what's lost when reading is done silently, and to oneself. The beauty of the book reading is to hear the words spoken out loud, and learn something about the book, and the author in the process.

Related: Tony Bourdain reads from No Reservations and All Aunt Hagar's Children by DC's own Edward P. Jones

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Save Screen on the Green!

This is about the saddest thing I've ever heard.  Screen on the Green has been cancelled this summer?!

I've never made a secret of how much I love SotG.  Like, with a passion that burns in the heavens above.  Not having it this summer will make that long, sweaty month of August just about unbearable.

Please email HBO and let them know you want SotG back.  Talking points to help get your message across:

**How much you love SotG, what it means to you and why it's important to have in DC.
**How the HBO dance provides tremendous brand recognition and loyalty with their esteemed company.
**If you're an HBO subscriber, you might think about cancelling your membership.  If you're not a subscriber, you might want to make it clear that you're loathe to consider a subscription now.
**If it's money they're worried about, and you actually would contribute, suggest they put up voluntary donation jars at each screening to help recoup some costs.

Also, if you want to email any other organization that might be able to pick up the slack (I'm looking at you, Turner Classics), then do so.  I'll bet a TCM dance will be just as silly and fun as any old HBO dance.

Also, by all means, use the comments to express your support and share SotG memories.  We are in a period of mourning.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Thing 149: Meridian Hill Park

Well, that was exciting! I upload a quick picture of our gorgeous first lady and mention how much I love having the Obamas in this great city of ours, and next thing I know, I've scooped the Washington Post, DCist, USA Today and Politico. So, if there are any new readers to the blog, I'd like to say, Welcome! You can read a little bit more about what this blog is all about here and here.

How amazing was the weather this weekend? It was perfect picnic weather, and we all know how much I love a picnic. This time, we headed towards Meridian Hill Park, aka Malcolm X Park, a park that I realize I have spent entirely too little time in.
Meridian Hill Park is a perfect place to spend an afternoon. It's spacious (12 acres), and tiered, so it's easy enough to stake out a corner for yourself that feels quiet if you're feeling quiet. Or you can throw yourself into the myriad activities if you're looking for a more communal experience. Acrobatics,
tight rope walking, hula hooping, dog walking, sun bathing and of course, an amazing drum circle.

In addition to the lively drum circle and excellent array of dogs to coo over, Meridian Hill Park boasts a thirteen basin cascade fountain, overflowing from one basin into the next and dramatically cascading down. At least, I presume this is what happens, for the fountain was empty yesterday, but was lined in bright yellow daffodils and was nevertheless quite pleasant to look at.

It also home to the only equestrian statue in DC that depicts a woman riding the horse -- Joan of Arc rides proudly on the terrace above the fountain; a gift from "ladies of France in exile in New York."

As for our group, we stuck to usual picnic activities like eating cinnamon swirl bundt cake, joking in the sunshine and playing Uno. We whiled away the afternoon nibbling on potato salad and an huge sandwich, playing skips and reverses, as the drum circle beats drifted down to us.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Thing AWESOME: See Michelle Obama

I just came back from a visit to the West Coast, and everyone I talked to would say "so, how's Washington these days?" and I would answer "well, we have some pretty hot neighbors, that's for sure."

I'm not back one day when the Michelle Obama took the neighbor thing one step further, by eating lunch at Good Stuff Eatery, across the street from my office.  So what did I do?  Joined in the growing crowd, whipped out my camera, and waited for the First Lady to exit the building.

She whizzed past us, waving and smiling, in a kicky little ponytail and grey capri pants, as the crowd shouted "We love you!"  (This is, for the record, the most celebrity-esque scrum I've been in.  This is the Lindsey Lohan of Washington).

I do really love and admire how the Obamas are making this city their home, and taking part in the life and culture this city has to offer.  They are some pretty hot neighbors.