01 August, 2007

Mr. Wizard's Kitchen

I just have to rave a wee bit about my birthday dinner. My friend's I've been staying with in Atlanta took me to Element. Richard Blais, a practitioner of molecular gastronomy, now runs the kitchen and reviews have been good. I'd first read about El Bulli (under "gastronomy" in the white column click "general catalogue" and start drooling at the "food porn") and this whole culinary movement a few years ago and was intrigued.

Things like liquid nitrogen figure into several dishes, but it's never gimmicky. All the technical whiz-bang is meant to bring out the best of the ingredients. The menu is mind-bending in it's false simplicity and odd ingredients: "melted lamb" in a pasta dish; "carbonized octopus"; "artichoke soda" (surprisingly good); "Coca-Cola rocks" (syrup flash frozen) atop panna cotta. In between your orders the kitchen sends out little gifts - taro root chips with three tiny, jewel-like cubes of jellied essence of salsa; "candied corn" frozen with liquid nitrogen - pop a few kernels in your mouth and let the "smoke" flow out your nose (if you can stop giggling); "peach nigiri" with goat cheese. Some of our favorites from the tapas-style menu: diver scallops with white chocolate risotto (which had a wonderful hint of key lime flavor to it) and the beef "cap" with blue cheese and creamed corn. Every bite was out of this world. The only wrong note, to me, was the "Red Velvet cake tartare", which was too deconstructed, leaving little of anything but some lines on a plate. The cream cheese ice cream that accompanied it was delicious, though. Our other desert, a sort of chocolate cake Oreo with "strawberry water" and an outstanding sweet basil sorbet, was wonderful.

Even better? Aside from the excellent food and drink, word is Blais is a nice guy chef, not a rampaging ego maniac. I hope that's true and it certainly seems to be reflected in his restaurant, which is very relaxed and welcoming; a world-class kitchen attached to an easy-going neighborhood restaurant. Lack of pretension, affordability, and just plain fun, make Element worth trying if you're in Atlanta.


كلام نواعم : Sugar and spice, but they don't always play nice!

Public Television's Wide Angle aired a great documentary, Dishing Democracy, about Kalam Nawaem/كلام نواعم last night.

The program, which airs on MBC, is based on, yet light years beyond, Barbara Walter's The View. Kalam Nawaem translates to "sweet talk", but the four hosts joked they aren't always so sweet. The program offered an interesting look at the women behind the popular program and how their program and private satellite broadcasting on the whole is changing so much in the region. I've watched the program in the past, though my Arabic is not yet quick enough to follow it fully. I enjoyed learning more about the four remarkable women who host the program. It turns out, thanks to a good filmmaker, Fawzia Salama, Muna Abusulayman, Farah Bseiso, Rania Barghout, are not just accomplished professionals but fully realized human beings with surprises and contradictions.

Those of you who missed it will soon be able to watch it free in its entirety on the accompanying web site, which includes additional resources regarding satellite television in the Middle East. Be sure to look at the Resources link, which provides links to organizations, films, programs, journals, and more about Arab media and the region.


What $650 million buys you in Turkey these days

Drink up while you can, Turkey. I was reading an article about the return of the balık-ekmek boats to Istanbul's Eminönü district when I saw this headline: Rivers to be privatized as a solution to water crisis. I am not a supporter of privatized, corporatized water and certainly not privatization of whole rivers and lakes. The article says 12-13 rivers are to be SOLD for a period of 49 years, including the Tigris ($650 m. for 29 year rights) and Euphrates ($950 m. for 29 year rights). There is no explanation of how this strategy will solve the stated water crisis. Also, no word on potential reactions from Syria and Iraq, which lay downstream. Also according to the article, the transfer of water resources to the private sector may require a constitutional amendment. It sounds like a bad idea to me....

While climate change is certainly making life harder in Turkey, things aren't much better in Egypt or the rest of the Mediterranean, either. And if you think it's hot and dry now, just wait...


30 July, 2007

Where ًto next?

So, I am waiting on my new passport and contemplating heading East in a few months.

I was worried about the processing backlog, but I called this morning and was told my renewal application was moving along well. The man on the phone was actually very nice (even wished me a happy day before my birthday), but I suppose I'll believe him when the passport is in my hand, hopefully soon. In my procrastinating glory I waited until the beginning of July to apply for my renewal.

The U.S. government changed the old rules for travel, which permitted travel by land, air, and sea to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Canada and subsequent re-entry to the U.S. with only valid photo i.d. or a birth certificate. Unfortunately, they didn't bother to adequately set up the infrastructure to process all these new applications, leading to waits of up to three months. My, I feel safer already. And, human nature here being what it is, Americans are shocked to find out about all this after a year of notices in the media and from travel professionals. When I turned in my materials, the woman behind the counter had all sorts of horror and humor stories such as people applying a week before their date of departure under the assumption they'd get their passport overnight. It says a lot, to me, about this country that only about %25 of Americans hold valid passports.

I am looking into CELTA certification programs in Istanbul, Beirut, Cairo, Oman, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, and Morocco. There are several that begin in October. I would love to make use of my Arabic, but also wouldn't mind building up my Turkish. If anyone has any feedback (positive or negative) on the programs, please let me know. Other than Istanbul and Beirut, the courses are all through the British Council. Or, if you would like to sell me on a particular city, offer to pick me up at your airport, or buy me a beverage, feel free to speak up as well.