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Howling winds continued well into the night, as sky-stretched trees shivered and ached, in fear of being uprooted from the only patch of earth they have known. Rain traveled sideways, thrashing against the window panes. Light bulbs flickered, blinking, as if wincing moments before giving way to nature’s will.

Morning is eerily quiet, calm. Winds have died down, retreated, moved on in remorseless destructive paths. Drizzling is the rain now, the sky ready to close its flood gates, clouds still looming ominously. Droplets of the sky’s remains hang on the tips of red and orange leaves, tugging with what force and wait remains. The air is crisp, on the border of frigid, as if Sandy briskly brushed passed us, leaving a whiff of foul perfume, lingering and settling.

Downed trees still lay upon their wreckage, on homes, cars, roads. Ships are thrown on land, basements and subways are submerged, and millions await in pitch black darkness, helpless but not hopeless, waiting for and through the inevitable.

We live as invincibles. We live as though we shall not falter, as though we demand control of our destinies, our fortunes, our paths. We live as though our logic is supreme over outer forces, known and unknown, as if untouchable, doubtless. We live as though we are trustworthy, as though good innately emanates from within, through all circumstances, more than enough to justify our own sanctity.

Moments like these beg to differ.

We are not invincible. We may falter, and we may very well lose control of destiny, fortune and paths. Our logic may not prove to be supreme, and we may indeed remain doubtful. Justification of strength, of good, of infallible tendencies, may be put aside, rested, to raise eyes to something beyond our grasp, our knowledge, our comfort boundaries.

Acceptable is the confession of weakness. Tolerable is the acknowledgement of vulnerability, of fallacy. For in the midst of a storm, we are nothing but a dot on the radar, miniscule beings, subject to nature’s will and doing. For in these times, we remember compassion, we invoke prayer, we revive communal sanctity. For in these times, we reminisce grace.

Amidst chaotic whirlwinds, the eye of the storm is calm, ignorant to its far away developments. Maybe we all live in the eye of the storm, yet fail to recognize the rings of destruction surrounding us. We are vulnerable, we are fragile. When the storm shifts, drifts ever so slightly to the left or to the right, the full effects engulf our lives, uprooting the foundational beliefs that have anchored most everything palpable.

We will no doubt rise again, mend the destruction, and come out like purified gold, fortified steel.

But when the tides withdraw and power is restored, we will once again return to the eye of the storm, awaiting the next uncontrollable event. Remember our weakness, remember our vulnerabilities. Remember how lives have changed in the blink of an eye, where our logic, our planning, our own goodwill have done so little.

So we live in the eye of the storm as if we are riding Sandy’s tides. Our eyes look to the heavens in humble prayer, for our lives are in firmer hands than our own. Our eyes look to our brethren in need, for our lives are intertwined in more ways than we think.

Godspeed.

Google has kindly reminded me that today is Bob Ross’ 70th birthday.

My childhood memories of painting all originated from this great man. Besides his out-of-control afro, I was always amazed and astonished by his scenic masterpieces, created with such ease and composure. He made you think that you could do it too.

This shows how uneducated I am in the field of modern art, but to this day, to the core of my being, I believe Bob Ross is the greatest painter of this century (haha). I look at Picasso, or some other abstract creation, and I always think, “Bob Ross is totally better than that.” You know those paintings that look like someone just stood over the canvass, threw down some paint, and titled it “Paint Thrown From Above”? Ok, maybe not exactly like that, but you get the point. Bob Ross could out paint all those folks.

So here is a shout out to Bob Ross. A piece of my childhood. A legend in my mind. Happy Birthday, and Rest in Peace.

There’s something manly about cooking stew.

On cold, rainy nights during law school, I’d buy bags of vegetables and stock from Super Fresh (which was neither super nor fresh). Hunched over the tiny sink in my hole-in-the-wall apartment, all that peeling and chopping was actually exhilarating, stress-relieving, dragging my mind out of endless books and useless assignments. A giant pot of stew would last days, and with some Tabasco sauce and good French bread, it warmed even the nastiest of souls during a tumultuous period in my life.

Here on the East Coast, we wait in silence, in the calm before the storm. The air is crisp but not too cold, the wind has picked up slightly, and rain is drizzling. Nothing out of the ordinary yet, but who knows what tonight and tomorrow will bring.

During this calm, I once again peeled and chopped. Wholesome chunks of potatoes, carrots and celery go into the pot. Butternut squash, onions and broccoli soon join. Eggplant is something new in my routine, but a pleasant addition, and baby bella mushrooms is a must. Canned corn and crushed tomatoes marry everything together. And garlic, lots and lots of garlic.

Heaps of coarsely chopped produce thrown together, simmering for hours in a bathtub of a pot. Men, including me, would almost always prefer to be gnawing on a brat off the grill or a bleeding bone-in ribeye any day of the week. But one exception could be this stew. Something about big chunks. Something about mounds of food. Something about letting the thing simmer for hours over low heat.

So I sit here “stewing” before the storm.

Waiting.

God speed.

Once traveled a bard, to distant shores and simmering cities,

Once a bard traveled, to distant shores and simmering cities,

A bard once traveled, to distant shores and simmering cities,

Traveled a bard once, to distant shores and simmering cities.

And ate.

Nothing better than some hearty, home-style Chinese cooking after a flu shot. Found another hidden gem in Fairfax. It’s always a good sign when the house special section of the menu is entirely in Chinese characters, with no translation. It’s legit, authentic. Also a good sign if the majority of the patrons are Chinese. Go where the expats go! An important truth of life.

Szechuan chili chicken – crispy, deep fried, tossed with garlic and red hot chili peppers and green onions. Eggplant – meltinyourmouth soft, simmering in a hot pot of garlicky madness. On my next visit, I vow to order their pig feet in a hot pot, and also their beef tripe dish.

This ought to make any flu (or flu shot side effect) go away.

Pork is good. In all forms. The more the merrier. Pork belly, pork shoulder, pork chops, pork loin, pork ribs, pulled pork. The smell of pork fat charring, burning above heated charcoal is what heaven would smell like.

For those who know, pig’s feet is a cut above. Chewy, gelatinous texture of the outer layer, followed by soft and aromatic meat. You taste the entire animal in a single bite. If you don’t like it, you haven’t tried it done right. If you haven’t tried it, get out there.

On a nonchalant afternoon, a friend and I ran into a Chinese version of this delicacy during a second lunch (the first course, banh mi, wasn’t quite filling). Totally out of the blue. My friend suggests we hit up a nice sit-down Chinese joint just across the street, and tells me of their pig’s feet. The dish wasn’t even on the menu, but my friend worked his magic with the waitress, and there it was, glistening, smothered in hot chili oil and spices, tossed with fresh green onions.

The generous slices of pig’s feet were served chilled. But not to worry, it’s actually better that way. Pig gelatin is on a plateau of its own, maintaining its distinct gummy texture and just slightly absorbing the heat of the chili oil and bite of the Chinese spices. A bowl of steaming white rice and hot and sour soup is all you need. Take a sip of the soup, grab pig’s feet, lay on top of steaming rice, and partake. Enough said.

Table to my right has a spread of vegetable fried rice and sweet and sour something. Table to my left has beef and broccoli and fried wontons. I love the feeling when heads turn to see what the server is bringing to your table. What the hell are they having, they will ask.  What, no sweet and sour something? No veggie fried rice? No, you say, this is the real deal, the local stuff, what the emperor would have killed to have.

I don’t even remember the name of this dish. Hell, it took two different waitresses to figure out what my friend was saying in his incoherent Mandarin. But whatever it is, it’s absolutely delicious, definitely worth multiple followup trips.

Pig’s feet at its finest.

Downtown DC has never impressed me gastronomically. No good pho, no good ramen. Just deli after deli, and none impressive. Arlington and Falls Church are on a different plateau of cuisine, but DC has been lukewarm.

But nestled on the other side of my office building hides a hole in the wall that blew my mind and digestive tract (in the best of ways). This hole in the wall has a simple name – Greek Deli – and it serves, yes, Greek food. The best damn Greek food in the city. Authentic, home-made quality, it’s all there.

I love Greek food, but don’t know much about it. While interning at the Department of Commerce, I was inevitably addicted to the gyro sandwich in the cafeteria. The price-quantity ratio met any law student’s needs, and the gyro and tzatziki were perfect. But my knowledge and experience of Greek cuisine ends there.

Until I met Kostas Fostieris and Greek Deli.

For weeks, I walked by this hole, curiously eying the endless line of starving souls and wondering, what the hell could be cooking in that hole! Fifty degrees, and freezing in sleet rain, folks were still lining up, shivering, but with mad anticipation! For what? For authentic spanakopita, Greek meatballs, and Athenian pastitsio.

My inner voices were brawling until the bitter end (insert clip of Biden vs Ryan VP debate here). As the line steadily approached the register, I was frantic – gyro platter or Greek combo! Any Greek joint I visit, I always try the gyro; that is the measuring stick for Greek-worthiness. But the pungent smell of baked cheese and oozing meatballs was more convincing than Biden’s wise-ass smirk.

My virgin tongue squirmed in ecstasy. The spanakopita was so fresh, the feta perfectly complimenting the spinach. Superb baking. The meatballs were moist and flavorful – a lot more herbs and spices than the typical Italian meatballs. The pastitsio was rich but controlled, creamy and lush. And as a bonus, the orzo underneath these foods of the gods soaked up all the juices and sauces – every grain had to be consumed, none to waste.

And the sheer volume of food. It’s always a good sign when you pick up that to-go bag and you ask yourself, did someone just drop a law school casebook in there? Heavy is good. Kostas’ food is dense in flavor, rich, filling – like home. I guess I’d feel at home if I was Greek. But nonetheless, a homey feeling for everyone.

No doubt in my mind that I will try the gyro next time. And no doubt in my mind that Kostas will please me with his gyro in all ways fathomable.

My Twitter account has eighteen followers. Anemic at best. I blame my rather lackluster response speed to social media in general. I also blame the lack of Twitter-crazy friends who’d follow me without arm-twisting threats to do so.

Bourdain has over one million followers.

The difference?

When I tweet about rumors regarding a possible bilateral investment treaty between Korea and the new government of Myanmar, eighteen people will see it pop up in their Home page. Of those eighteen, half never sign into their Twitter account. Of the remaining nine, half probably couldn’t care less about BITs.

When Bourdain tweets about his extraordinarily delicious dinner at Blue Ribbon Bakery, one million people see it. Of those one million, many are enthused, crazed Twitterians. Of those one million, many care about good food. Of those one million, many will flock to Blue Ribbon Bakery because Bourdain said so on Twitter.

That is influence.

I was never a true believer in Facebook, and hate it more after its flopped IPO (force-feeding me their “timeline” was a shove over the edge). I still doubt the value and purpose of other forms of social media, like Foursquare (seriously, we don’t care that you’ve checked into your office for the thirtieth time).

But Twitter is different. I gauge its value differently. It is the most efficient way to self-advertise one’s values and messages. Its true strength is in its ability to spread like wild fire. Retweets spread the message to an exponential number of followers, and the fire continues, as long as the wind is blowing. And hey, the iPhone app is east to use.

“Power Twitterians” can be influential vessels to spread any message. Particularly during an election year, politicians in both Korea and the U.S. are poised to lure in key influencers from all walks of life. A few tweets from a Power Twitterian will easily reach millions, and more importantly, people will actually listen. Because X said so, not the damn politician.

A new breed of influence, in the palm of your hand.

Ceviche – a tart, tangy mix of raw fish, onions, cilantro, tomatoes, and lime juice. Baklava – layer after layer of crisp, buttery pastry dough and ground pistachios, drenched in honey. An unlikely duo under a single roof. But in Falls Church, VA, this matrimony not only exists, it’s astoundingly orchestrated, profoundly delightful. And oh, just tender, creamy lamb, tripe and beef tongue on the side. Just that.

What better way to spend a cold, windy Columbus Day. “Mirage” in Falls Church boasts a lineup of both Persian and Peruvian cuisine. Odd at first, but not for Falls Church. It’s already home to some of the best pho and bahn mi in the country. Persian and Peruvian? Why not.

My friend Scholar volunteers to lead me to a gastronomic experience I would not forget. Scholar is just that – a scholar. A student of modern Turkish history, of philosophy, of old dusty books in general. More importantly, for my purposes, he is a student of baklava and grilled meats on skewers

An aside: the “Peruvian” chicken, pictured prominently on my plate, was actually the worst dish. Just a hint of charcoal smoke, but nothing magical.

Good lamb is not easy to come by. Melt-in-your-mouth tripe, even harder. Beef tongue? It’s a lost art form in this part of the world. But as I grabbed my first plate to step up to the buffet line, there they were, lamb, tripe and tongue, simmering and resting side by side. My eyes widened in disbelief, and I swear I felt my heart beating on my fingertips as I piled on hills and mountains.

There is something inherently soothing about slow-roasted meat. It’s a religious experience, a holy grail moment. Lamb smothered in a blend of greenish, earthy herbs and spices, ready to spill its juices on first touch. Tripe soaking in a golden curry-like sauce, soft but not mushy, meaty yet not gamey. Beef tongue – one of the most delicate and flavorful parts of the animal – soft as velvet, with a taste that screams “BEEF”, more so than a plateful of steaming brisket.

Tender, moist, succulent cuts of meat in three different curry-like sauces, poured over three different types of rice. Don’t mind the flavors mixing – it’s all for the better.

On the opposite side of the dining hall, pans and pans of fresh baklava await. In my memory, this delightful pastry was usually detached from its herd, already locked up in clear, plastic containers. With luck, they may be aligned in lasagna-sized pans.

Here, giant circular pans, larger in diameter than the largest of New York pizzas, proudly housed the bite-sized, homemade manna. Scholar is ecstatic, haven’t seen him this aroused about anything. The baklava here, he proclaims, is the closest thing to the real Turkish deal in Northern Virginia. Impressed, I munch on, sipping a hot black tea of sorts in between bites – sweet and tart, crisp and flaky. God knows how pissed I would’ve been if they served Lipton. The tea didn’t even have the “L” of Lipton. It was a first for me, refreshing not bitter, dancing perfectly with the baklava.

Thanks Mr. Columbus. We have discovered new land indeed, in Falls Church.

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