Culinary Journeys

Not So Dreadful Isolation

April 22, 2020

Everyone is in the same boat: trapped inside, attempting to stay sane and thinking of ways to stay safe, whilst simultaneously trying new and innovative ways to keep occupied at optimal productivity. I’m sure we all receive recommendations on how to prevent the virus and insanity, including homemade remedies that likely don’t work (eating garlic or bathing in essential oils). However, in reality a lot of us are going stir crazy. We are in dire need of human interaction, a break from the boredom, the monotony of nothingness, and our motivation hits a whole new low each day. Staying in pajamas and working from the comfort of one’s own bed is fun for a few days, but the thrill fades quickly. 

The first week I was extremely motivated. With more free time, I could do all the things I had been meaning to do but hadn’t had the time or reason to start. The first weekend I started yoga and working out, soon realizing how unfit I was. I finished a book I had been trying to get through, video chatted with family and friends and started learning Farsi. I even finished a 500-piece puzzle. I felt great! I was determined to accomplish so much during this isolation period. The second week I practiced yoga almost every day and was working out regularly. I was motivated in my job and believed being a homebody was not awful. I started cooking and baking, trying out new recipes and experimenting with ingredients. I could get through this! However, as soon as the 3rd week started, my motivation started to wane. I stopped my workout routine and Farsi lessons, and I began to eat all the food I had baked and hoarded. 

Over the next two weeks I saw myself putting on weight and getting depressed. I began craving a cigarette. I don’t smoke, I haven’t smoked in the past, but the act was an alluring way to pass time and to feel some sort of high. I never followed through with my desire, but I remained lazy. I had no other plans or excuses for my idleness, but there was always the internal justification that we’ll be here for a while; I can just do whatever I was planning on completing or starting tomorrow. Bad idea, because tomorrow never comes when we keep putting things off. However, if we get off our sofas today, go outside, breathe in some fresh air and move around, we accomplish a lot. After getting over my hump, I have experimented in the kitchen and loved it, read several inspiring books, started an online course, and turned to receiving exhilaration from the high of exercise.  

Although I am constantly pushing myself to be positive and busy every day, I gravely miss human interaction. I never thought I would ever miss getting up early and going into the office this much. The friendly faces, the commotion and energy of Chinatown and the metro, are some of the few things I yearn for more and more as each day passes. I never imagined missing the commute, walking to and from work surrounded by hundreds of other people, bumping into you as they walk with their heads down, buried in their phones. I miss getting up, dressing up, putting on makeup and being slightly presentable. I miss having something to get dressed up for. I miss my friends, hugs and eating out. I am tired of cooking and eating at home, I want a delicious meal whipped up by a chef on a perfect spring evening, outside, with a glass of wine. I miss so much of what I cannot have, and it's been difficult to come to terms with that, but it’s also important to make the most of our situations. I’m employed, I’m healthy and I am not alone. In tough times It’s hard to see any light, but after the darkness, dawn brings out the beauty of life. 

It is comforting to know that the whole world is feeling the same; none of us are alone in our delirium or boredom. It’s incredible how this experience, while pulling us away from each other, has simultaneously brought so many closer together. We have more time for family, more time to talk to friends we have been meaning to call for months, and we have built an online community. We see love and hope throughout the world as we all band together to help each other and keep our spirits high.

It's okay to go crazy, it's okay to sit and wallow for a day, we all deserve that, but it is essential to keep a positive morale. For those of us who are healthy and safe, we can and should continue to pursue our goals and not feel defeated. It's so easy to give up, wish for unattainable things (i.e clorox), or for our previous lives. However, this is the perfect time to take a step back and be grateful for what we have, and for the heroes on the frontline saving lives. Don’t waste this time and don’t take life for granted. 


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Daru - DC's New Indian Cocktail Bar

February 11, 2020

Planning to open in Maypril (May/April) on H Street, Daru is a unique Indian spiced soon-to-be cocktail bar created by Chef Suresh Sundas and barman Dante Datta formerly part of the opening team at Rasika West End eight years ago. 

 

The pop-up event at the Green Zone on January 27th opened at 6:00 pm, and there were lines out the door when I arrived at 6:15. Incredible!

(Photo by: Fatema Sachak)

 

Luckily, it wasn’t too cold and the queue goers were offered peanuts, and the menu of the night was distributed amongst the dedicated fans. Indian inspired cocktails and snacks were the appetizing items on the menu, very unique to DC. Yes, there are some Indian restaurants, but none offering interesting drinks or spicy duck kebab. On the food side, they did provide the option of the typical Indian food which Americans love: garlic naan and chicken tikka masala, but with a flair. 

 

After munching on some peanuts, reading the menu five times deciding what to get and making friends with strangers in line, I finally got into the small two-story venue twenty minutes later. The ground floor, which held the bar, was tiny and overcrowded with people slowly and unsuccessfully trying to push their way towards the front of the bar to order one of the intriguing Indian flavoured cocktails.

 

The game plan was for people to order drinks and food at the bar downstairs, and then make their way upstairs to gather. But of course there were too many people standing at the bar, and not that many who made the trek up a few stairs. What is puzzling is that there was a bar upstairs, but no drinks were served. Very inefficient. 

 

(Photo by: Fatema Sachak)

Nevertheless, I managed to get one drink, (could have had more if it weren’t for the wait) the Kali Cooler with Rhum and Black Cardamom Soda as well as a spicy duck kebab. I was excited about the Black Cardamom Soda in the cocktail, and while it tasted delightful, I didn’t feel the Indian zing from the cardamom I was hoping for. The spicy duck on the other hand was fireworks in my mouth. Perfectly cooked, with the right amount of spices. Made for an Indian - I loved it! Although I was not too enthused by the Indian flair of the Kali Cooler, I sipped a few other drinks and pecked at some other people's snacks. From my sampling, I thoroughly enjoyed the Hari Daiquiri, and buckwheat pakoras. Such an ingenious mix of flavors. Many of the drinks, true to the Indian style had whiskey, which does not tickle my fancy, but produced rave reviews all around. 

In spite of the long lines, waits and stuffy bar, the pop-up bar was a brilliant success.

Mouthwatering food and drinks, unique to the area, enjoyable and very popular. As I was leaving much later, there was still a line to get in. That’s a true sign of success. I’m excited to see whether another pop-up bar brightens our Monday and am counting down the days until Maypril for the real deal to open.

 

Mark your calendars and follow Daru.dc on Instagram for updates.


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Cacti, UFOs, Malls: What Does Arizona Have to Offer?

January 5, 2020

The desert state of Arizona known for rattlesnakes, cacti and red mountains, is a vast and magnificent place. From haunted copper mining towns, UFO sightings, 40 acre monumental shopping malls and of course, the Grand Canyon, this state truly has a diversity of attractions. If you do find yourself riding cross-country or vacationing in this Wild West state here are some of the sites you just have to see. And for all the city folk, walking or public transportation to and from places is not an option - take a car unless you have an innate desire to walk well over 40 miles one way.  

Begin your journey in the south of the desert in Tucson, where you travel 35 feet underground into a nuclear bunker and can gaze through a world-renowned telescope into the night sky in the same day.

First stop, the Titan Missile Museum located just outside Tucson in Sahuarita. In this fascinating one hour tour, you’ll gain some insight into the role of nuclear weapons during the cold war and dive 35 feet underground into one of the most secretive and protected areas in the 1970s and 80s.  A 760 ton door underground will open to give you access to the command center where a guide will walk you through a potential nuclear deployment. The last stop before bracing the sun again, you will see where they stored nuclear weapons. There is no longer a nuclear weapon there of course, they do not know where others are stored and do not really appreciate questions of extreme secrecy. 

Biosphere (Photo by: Fatema Sachak) Biosphere

Next, take a drive to the top of a hill to look out into the universe at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Look at the weather forecast before and book your tickets on a night where the sky is clear so you can enjoy the mysterious universe without any cloud obstruction. Home to one of the best telescopes in the world, this observatory has both daily and nightly tours, but why go look into a telescope unless you are looking at the stars?

Next morning, hop in a car and drive a little outside of Tucson to the small town of Oracle, to visit the incredible design, science and architecture of Biosphere 2. This scientific marvel is home to a rainforest, desert, savanna, ocean and several other climate conditions all for the purpose of food, water and energy research. There are several different tours to choose from where you can walk through the biosphere and get an overview of the history and science of the building. You’ll learn about their coral, their drought experiment in the rainforest and can see a desert inside a biosphere in the middle of a desert. This glass dome is a work of genius. Visiting Biosphere 2 is an enlightening experience you will not forget. 

After completing your entertaining drive around Tucson, drive north and make your way to Tempe to visit Arizona State University. In the top 5 largest universities in the US, ASU is definitely quite a sight to see. Although there is currently a lot of construction taking place, with refurbishment of classes, building of dorms and solar panels, this college town is still beautiful. Take a stroll down Palm Tree Walk, a beautiful avenue of palm trees and watch students walk to and from classes, trying not to overstress with the piles of work they have to complete in their oversized backpacks. Once the sun sets and classes are over, take a stroll down Mill Avenue where stunning tree lights illuminate the street to a line of entertaining college bars and restaurants. 

Red Rock (Photo by: Fatema Sachak) Red Rock

Once you tire yourself of the college lifestyle, discard the studious life and continue to drive north to the famous cowboy city of Sedona. The breath-taking red rocks stretching for miles, scattered with lush green shrubs and cacti is something out of a movie. Speaking of movies, the magnificent backdrop of Sedona was the hub of many of Hollywood’s Wild West movies with cowboys riding horses through the red rocks, guns strapped in their holsters and lariats ready. Now, with the Wild West movies a thing of the past, Sedona is home to mostly retirees, the rumoured homes of Oprah Winfrey and Madonna and the world’s only blue McDonalds! Besides celebrity houses, this city is home to a rich history and beautiful sights. Take a one to two hour Trolley Tour where your guide will drive you through some valleys and explain some fascinating facts about the city. Did you know the now arid land started as an apple orchard and this beautiful city has had its fair share of UFO sightings? 

After the trolley tour, take a walk in the city center and pop into some shops. There are a lot of interesting trinkets you can find, or just enjoy the window shopping. Once you start getting peckish, stop at Cowboy Club, a local Sedona restaurant serving some unique foods from rattlesnake sausage to cactus fries, well worth the visit. Here you’ll be greeted by staff wearing black cowboy hats, cowboy boots and plastic guns in their holsters. Try sit outside if you can to take in the splendid view of the rocks. Their menu is a mix of local interesting delicacies, and if you are courageous, take a hit at their unusual dishes. Their cactus fries, although it sounds bizarre are delicious - a tangy, salty taste with a sweet prickly pear sauce. They taste a little slimy, but you may find that you like them better than French fries.

The ocean inside Biosphere (Photo by: Fatema Sachak) The ocean inside Biosphere

Post stuffing your face and before leaving, try one of the hiking trails in the city. Climb on top of the rocks to get an exquisite view of the surroundings. Many tourists are attracted to this red rock city as a hiking destination, but be careful, along the route, you may come across some rattlesnakes, scorpions and collared peccary, especially in the summer heat, and you do not want to mess with them. However, they are easy to avoid, and the end result of a rocky red plain is well worth the risk.

Last stop on the Arizona tour, and certainly not least by any means is, of course the Grand Canyon. One of the world’s wonders and amazing rock formations stretching several hundred miles, this bewildering natural beauty seems like a creation of the Gods. Keep driving north a few more hours and you’ll hit the Grand Canyon National Park. Besides walking for hours and seeing the vast valley and rocks, there are several activities to keep you entertained during the day. The Park has a camping ground if tents and sleeping bags are up your alley. For the day, there are boating excursions, helicopter tours, horseback riding tours and much more, all on the north, south, east and west rims. You can hike down the canyon have a little picnic, and then must muster the strength to hike back up all in one day. And if the kids want more out of the visit, they can become a Junior Ranger in the course of your time there. Although there are many activities at the Grand Canyon, pay attention to weather reports and seasons as several areas and activities are closed in the winter. The stunning view of the Canyon is something you will never forget, so plan it for clear sunny skies and don’t forget your glasses, you don’t want to miss this view!


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