Thursday, May 27, 2010

Stevie Wonder--in full effect!

Stevie Wonder in concert at the Verizon CenterEarlier tonight, Stevie Wonder wowed me and several thousand other guests of the Pollin family (Abe Pollin's relatives) at the Verizon Concert for a two-hour concert titled Living for the City. This was a special treat, as I somehow hadn't had the chance to see Stevie live (crazy, I know), and won one last week at a meeting of local food pantry volunteers.

Contrary to expectations, the show wasn't very late--it was scheduled to begin at 8:15, the introductions, etc., began about 8:30, and Wonder started performing at around 8:45.

Of course, Wonder sang many of his hits--Signed, Sealed, Delivered, You and I, All is Fair, Higher Ground, All I Do, Sir Duke, etc.--though of course, not all of them, or we'd have been there past 2 am. Oddly, Living for the City was not performed, although in fairness, that song's a mini-production that could have stretched over 20 minutes.

Wonder generously shared the stage with local and relatively unknown artists. A highlight was the harmonica duo with a gentleman named Frederic. A very familiar looking local lady played the congas (though not go go style) throughout much of the evening. Lots of folks in the audience were up and dancing, though not me, not with a fear of tumbling down the aisle like Jimmy Stewart in a scene from the movie Vertigo.

The Pollin family was there, front and center, welcoming everyone, and explaining this as a way to show thanks to the community for its support over the years. Amazing, one of the Pollin sons, Bob Pollin, explained he started the process of getting this concert together three weeks ago! Which means that the selfish idiot who stole the teachers' tickets probably hasn't done much with them, as there hasn't been enough time to scalp them, has there?

souvenir flyer from Stevie Wonder concert

Monday, May 17, 2010

Happy birthday to Youtube!

So, today's Youtube's fifth birthday! Who'da thought a program started by someone who just wanted to share videos with friends and family would have blown up like this, morphed into millions of people viewing and sending videos, serious and silly.

Speaking of silly, here's an endearing happy birthday video, originally created for the UK's Queen Mum, that would put a smile on anyone's face.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Eating good from the neighborhood--The Brookland Cafe

exterior of the Brookland Cafe on 12th StreetHad to transact business in NE DC, and was in the neighborhood, so I trotted over to the Brookland Cafe (associated with the Brookland Inn next door) for a sit-down lunch. I try to patronize local establishments when possible; however, only a few locals at a time are able to fit in this cozy (near) corner.

The liquor license status is currently up in the air (due to a complaint lodged that the cafe is within 500 feet of a school; huh?), so I ordered an iced tea, which was very strong and sweet, the way I like it.

The service is very friendly, casual, and the vibe is cheery. However, the non-bar chairs lack backs (and are thus unsuitable for the clumsy--moi), so I ate at the bar, which was more comfortable than many. Being in the mood for fried food, I ordered the vegan shrimp basket, consisting of plump, crispy vegan shrimp served with homemade red pepper fries (which weren't spicy, but exuded salted, crisp goodness). The housemade cocktail sauce served with the shrimp is pleasant, but not especially spicy.

vegan shrimp and fries at the Brookland Cafe Best of all, lunch was tasty, yet I didn't feel bloated afterward. (And even had enough room to indulge in a slice of sweet potato cake, an indulgence well worth it. After all that, I felt good. Da da da da da da da, I knew that I would...I feel nice...)

* * *

True Value Hardware store in Brookland NE DC Headed down the street for a non-food errand, to find a true neighborhood institution, its eccentric True Value hardware store. Like many an independent store, there is an amazingly large number of goodies stacked therein, the expected items (grass seed, lawn mowers), but surprises lurk within. Like the wide variety of old-fashioned gum and candy near the checkout (if I knew about that selection of caramels beforehand, I'd be a bigger blimp), and an interesting choice of bean seeds, bush versus pole, of a variety that I have yet to see elsewhere (two shelves of each type, from the Meyer Seed Co.). Kentucky wonder beans, anyone?

Can't knock a place that's been around for decades, and still has a decent number of customers late on a weekday afternoon, near the crawl space known as the checkout. But, it wouldn't be around if it didn't fulfill many local needs, so I'm glad it's there.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Comfort food, Indian style, at the Taj Mahal Restaurant

outside of Taj Mahal Indian restaurant in Suitland Maryland When the weather's up and down (especially on chillier days), I can get a hankerin' for Indian food (aka, the other soul food), as it's tasty, spicy, fatty, nutritious, and starchy. In other words, it hits all the comfort zones.

Even more comforting is that the above establishment, Taj Mahal Restaurant, has a weekday lunch buffet of $8.95. Its unpretentious exterior is appropriate for the neighborhood, as it's on a street with lots of small, semi-industrial businesses, but is a close drive from the Smithsonian "attic" and the Census Bureau. You see lots of these employees come in for the buffet, so it's good to get there early, before noon, before the rush is on. The interior has a number of tables, and a casual, colorful vibe. Often, the large screen tv has some Bollywood musical or soap opera running.

inside of the Taj Mahal restaurant in Suitland

Buffet area before the lunch stampede.

I've been there a few times, twice for the buffet, once to get an entree. Always, the service is friendly and fast. Even buffet attendees get a basket of warm naan sent to the table. On warmer days, the mango lassi is a nice accompaniment to the food; on cooler days, I ask for hot tea.

As to the food, it's tasty enough with a good selection, from the menu and at the buffet (which sometimes has an item or two that's not on the menu, such as goat vindoloo). I've enjoyed the begun bartha (eggplant with onions and peas, I think), samosas, and lentil soup from the menu. The menu has plenty of chicken, lamb, seafood, and vegetarian entrees, with a special section for tandoori specials.

The buffet has many vegetarian options, and the others are mostly chicken dishes, including tandoor chicken (often, but not always). Buffet side mainstays include pappadum (yum!), basmati rice, vege pakoras (but I prefer the samosas), sauces like raita, tamarind, and mint, and typical desserts such as rice pudding (nothing to write home about; I heard there's chocolate cake served some days, but I haven't seen it). Then again, usually I'm too stuffed to even consider dessert when I'm done with lunch.

plate of vegetarian food at Taj MahalThis place doesn't stint on its ingredients--if the sign says an item is, say, an okra curry (a "dry" curry which I'd eat again), there's a ton of okra in it. The Channa saag is drowned in spinach as well as chickpeas. The only vegetable dish that failed to impress was the navratian korma, as it wasn't as chockful of goodies as the other vegetarian dishes (and the sauce seemed blander, although none of them are scorching hot).

All in all, it's a good option in an area that doesn't have many sit-down establishments. (And does a brisk delivery business for those in that area.) As the Governator would say, I'll be back.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lena Horne--living well was her revenge.

The struggles of the legendary Ms. Horne (who epitomized the saying, "Living well is the best revenge") are best summed up in the powerful performances of the songs most closely associated with her, Stormy Weather and If You Believe.

She had it all, and gave her all on stage. We will not see her like again.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mother's Day music mix...

A few classic tunes to enjoy this Mother's Day...and a laugh.

Who can ever forget the Intruders' hit, "I'll Always Love My Mama"?

A close second is Boyz II Men's, "A Song for Mama":

And last, but not least, Tupac's "Dear Mama":

A Mother's Day giggle...from a guy who made a video featuring his roommate mom's voicemails. A chuckle for all of us dealing with extremely technologically challenged relatives. (Note: video has a profanity slip-up.)

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Post-Cinco de Mayo, and stuff...

Funny how the (commercialized) Cinco de Mayo comes smack in the middle of grumbling about the the problematic law passed in Arizona, or more accurately, the problematic way that law is likely to be carried out. But doesn't the D.C. Council have enough to worry about in D.C.? You know, like the recent shootings in SE and all. Why the action against a state? (And honestly, people truly concerned about illegal immigration should be urging that real sanctions be levied and enforced against employers who hire/exploit illegal immigrants--say, $10,000 per employee. Maybe the City Council should have passed such a law, instead of the posturing. Right.)

Anyway, I enjoyed chili with avocado and fried tortilla chips before a home emergency (in the form of water dripping from one of the county-mandated sprinklers). At least I had a full stomach before having to call in a contractor.

Yes, homemade fried tortillas. Extra tasty and easy. And safer to the waistline than keeping a big bag of chips around. You simply get a package of corn tortillas (which are tastier than flour ones), the ones that come in packages that resemble this one:
package of soft corn tortillasTake out at least three tortillas (to have about six chips per person), then cut the stack of chips in half twice. In a large fry pan (preferably cast iron), over medium-high heat, let the canola oil heat for a minute, then swirl the pan around and add the chips. Turn each chip over after it has started to curl up, and heat for another minute or so. Put the chips on a paper towel when done, salt as desired, and you get this tasty treat:
fried corn tortilla chips With real griddle marks and all! They seem to taste better when fried in a cast iron pan than with other (nonstick) pans, even the Green Pan.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

A rare, welcome sight in DC...Hana Japanese Market

Ever since Chinatown gentrified, there are few Asian markets left in DC (sigh for the late, lamented Da Hua Market, now the site of a monstrosity of a CVS that takes up the better part of a block) if you're not in the wholesale area (the Capital City market area, near Gallaudet).

Since I had to go to Woodley Park recently, on the way back home, I stopped at a store that I've passed hundreds of times (at least when that building only housed a travel agency), the Hana Japanese Market.

outside of Hana Japanese Market on 17th Street NWWhat a cheery, welcoming sight! (The people who work there are nice, too.) Just as important, this small store is packed with all sorts of inexpensive finds for those in need, or want, of Japanese foods (such as good quality green tea, for which I'm always on the hunt). While it doesn't have the exhaustive selection of an Hmart or Great Wall (particularly regarding fresh fruits, vegetables, or meats), it does have a few exotic vegetables, a huge variety of miso and tofu [including the lowest prices for packaged silken tofu I've seen in a while], as well as popular Japanese candies and sweets, and many frozen sweets. Of course, it had a nice selection of good, inexpensive green tea as well.

I wasn't feeling overly adventurous, so I only got some nice jasmine tea and an adzuki bean pastry, but I liked what I saw. Although Hana's at the corner of 17th and U Streets NW, it seems a world away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle areas.