Runaway Spoon

A Party with POTUS in the Background

January 25, 2012

Can you image a party on State-of-the-Union night in Washington where the rule of the event was that politics are off the table?  That was the directive for Tuesday night’s 60th birthday party for PR executive (and mayor’s girlfriend) Linda Mercado Greene.

For the last hour, President Obama’s State of the Union Address was on the huge flat screen TV in same room as the three-hour bash at Cafe Milano. The sound was off but the streaming caption was there to read for any who wanted to.  Few did.  More of the partygoers focused on the birthday girl and her frequent escort, Mayor Vincent Gray.

Make no mistake, he, too, abided by Greene’s Night of Politics Off Limits during her party and seldom glanced at the TV screen. Gray, who went to last year’s State of the Union as the guest of D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, preferred to attend the birthday party in Georgetown this time.

This is “not a political or business event,” firmly stated Greene’s e-mail invitation to some 40 close buddies. “We all need to relax sometime. This is the occasion to do it.  In advance, I thank you for adhering to this request of no politicking.”

Hip, hip, hooray!

Among those attending were Greene's three children, Tamia Harper, Hani Ahmed and Brett Greene; and the Mayor's son Carlos.

Also celebrating were Councilmember Marion Barry and his son Christopher.  Greene was Barry’s chief of staff  in 2005 after she ran his council reelection campaign in 2004.

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il Canale Accepted into Ranks of Top Pizza Making Authority in Italy

January 23, 2012

For its pizza-making prowess, il Canale in Georgetown has been awarded membership in the prestigious Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, headquartered in Naples, Italy.

Il Canale, at 1063 31st Street NW near the C&O Canal, is owned by Sicilian-born Giuseppe “Joe” Farruggio. It opened in 2009.  The executive chef is Antonio Biglietto (from Naples) and the general manager is another native Italian, Vittorio Rosso.  Il Canale won the privilege of being the first restaurant in 2012 to be accepted into membership.

“Il Canale’s thin-crust pizzas are made with ingredients imported from Italy, including the bufala mozzarella, tomato sauce and flour," said Farruggio. “Our dough is made fresh daily right on the premises. Our pizza Napoletena is the best.”

il Canale pizza ready to be served (Photo by: Il Canale ) il Canale pizza ready to be served

Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN Association), which has been established by the Italian government as the controlling body when it comes to determining true Neapolitan pizzas, has strict rules that govern the ingredients, preparation, and manner of cooking.  According to its website, the VPN Association is ”the only non-profit association that safeguards and promotes the culture of the real Neapolitan pizza worldwide.”  

Its register of members “was created to protect and to professionalize the pizza makers in Italy and abroad that will undertake to make the Vera Pizza Napoletana (true Neapolitan pizza), according to tradition, thus ensuring the quality of the production process and products use,” said the association website. Il Canale is the only restaurant in Georgetown to receive the certification.

“We are elated to be accepted by the VPN Association,” said Rosso, il Canale’s general manager. ”We see a lot of Italians who now live or work here or are tourists who come in because they like to get a taste of real Italian pizza.”

Il Canale has a wood-fired pizza oven shipped from Naples and an Italian dough-making machine, all in compliance with the association’s standards. Adding to its Italian connection is the TV at the bar that shows European football games, Italian music and banners touting Italian heritage.

Logo to be shown on il Canale's window and menus (Photo by: Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana logo) Logo to be shown on il Canale's window and menus

Il Canale’s menu also features other Italian foods, such as pasta, soups, meats and fish dishes.


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Here kitty kitty

December 31, 2011

In this ultra-modern United Arab Emirates (UAE) capital of Abu Dhabi, where many Germans, Russians and Brits vacation, there is a private sanctuary miles from the high-rises where exotic orphaned animals have found a home.  It’s not like taking a nearby subway or walking a few easy blocks to the National Zoo in D.C.  Here, if you know about it, you know about it.

Our tiny group from the DC area learned about the lovely sanctuary from a former Montgomery County family now working in Abu Dhabi.

A black jaguar (Photo by: Natalia Janetti) A black jaguar

Where do these beautiful animals come from to find peace in an expansive man-made oasis in the desert?

“From people who have too much money and wanted exotic pets,” said Steve Smuts, our guide -- one of the 15 staffers -- who speaks with an accent tell-tale of his native South Africa. His mother, Ronel Smuts, manages the sanctuary. Others  –for instance, the ostriches -- were given to the sanctuary by people who stayed in the UAE awhile but moved elsewhere.

Founded and funded more than three years ago by wealthy Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed, the Abu Dhabi Wildlife Centre houses 120 “cats” and a total of about 400 other inhabitants. “He does this for the love of the animals,” said Steve. “He pays out of his own pocket.”

Some illegally smuggled-in animals were “let loose on the streets” or authorities confiscated them as they were seized on the gulfside docks or at the airports, Steve explained. There is a massive black jaguar, lions (including a white lion family), tigers, ocelots and other smaller cats, monkeys, rare Arabian wolves, deer and birds of many varieties. Over time, some of these cast-offs bred; their offspring, too, live here safely protected.

This is a country whose people love cats.  That means lions and tigers, as well as the domestic version.  But, as these bigger “pet” cats grow up, they are harder to contain in the garage or yard. Sometimes a neighbor will report the keeping of illegal cats to the authorities.  The sanctuary may then gain another occupant.

Unlike D.C., walking a dog in the morning or evening for its constitutional isn’t a common sight in the residential neighborhoods or parks hereabouts.  Rather than pets, dogs are more considered outdoor, work animals, said our American driver.  

Saved birds (Photo by: Natalia Janetti) Saved birds

The center, about a half hour from the main city next to an industrial area, is open to the public. About 20 or so people visit it a day, said our guide.  It is not easy to find by car.  After negotiating “roundabouts” where the traffic moves far faster and more unnervingly than on D.C.’s traffic circles, we met up with the sanctuary guide at a gas station featuring a McDonald’s.  Then we followed along a bumpy road in the desert past industrial and construction sites to the sanctuary and its hundreds of hose-watered trees. 

Some of the animals were shy; others came right up to the fence, and some loped along as we drove past, apparently thinking we were the feeding crew that was to bring their dinners shortly. 

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