Safe trick-or-treating this Halloween

Today, we went back to Brooklyn and explored the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. Lots of houses and brownstones were decked out in Halloween decoration, ranging from festively cut jack-o-lanterns to witches to cats with moving and glowing eyes. What was particularly sweet that we saw were some houses that still wanted to participate in the trick-or-treating experience for kids, but in a safe way: they laid out buckets of candy for kids at their doors or gates for anyone to come and take as they wished. Who knows how many kids would show up, or if others may even hoard the candy since no one was actively watching, but this gesture really just made me smile.

We didn’t witness this, but Chris noticed that the Gothamist posted on their Instagram feed that some who chose to “pass out” candy were so creative as to attach tiny parachutes to their candy and treats bags to give to trick-or-treating kids. That’s certainly a “contactless” way to enjoy the fun of trick-or-treating, both from the giver and receiver’s end!

Astor Place Hair Imposters

Shortly after announcing that they would close, Astor Place Hair has reported that some awful people out there created a fake Go Fund Me account to “raise money to save Astor Place Hair,” when in fact, these people do NOT represent Astor Place Hair and really were looking to just pocket the money and be evil. It’s enraging and so disheartening to see that people can stoop so low and be so dirty to exploit a New York institution’s pain and suffering just so that they can get some extra pocket money.

With the current pandemic, the political climate, the heightened racial injustice, and now this, I’m really at my wits end with the human species.

Astor Place Hair

Chris has been getting his hair cut at the historic Astor Place Hair pretty much since he moved to New York. I’ve been getting my hair cut there since 2013, and colored since 2017, especially after I was tired of getting $60 hair cuts at a Japanese salon in East Village (that free hot green tea was really not worth the price tag). We just heard this week that they will be closing right before Thanksgiving because of the awful impact the pandemic has had on their business. They were able to reopen in June, but the number of people coming in for cuts and color had decreased so drastically that they haven’t been able stay afloat. This place really is an institution though; many celebrities get their hair cut here, and even Bill De Blasio gets his hair cut here.

Does this mean my $25 haircuts are over? What about my $140 cut and highlight sessions (when the average spot in New York charges two to three times that amount…)? Who knows what the future will hold, but fingers crossed that they’ll be able to find a new location somewhere more affordable. It’s as though a little part of New York will die if they close their doors permanently.

Voting in 2020

A historic number of people have already either participated in early or absentee voting this year, and I’m hoping, fingers crossed, that these people all voted for Biden. Early voting is available here in New York state, and Chris and I went to the polls just a few blocks away to drop off our absentee ballots, and good thing we requested absentee. As we approached the poll, we noticed a long line that seemed quite endless. I did a time lapse video of just the first floor blocks of people who lined up for early voting; that line did NOT end there. It actually stretched for another six blocks along Columbus! Because we had absentee ballots, we were allowed right in to drop off the ballots and get our “I Voted” stickers. This is Chris’s first presidential election he’s voting in, and so he insists that it needs to be a Trump defeat…. because apparently he is that powerful. 🙂

When you can’t talk politics with your family

It’s nothing unique to my family that we cannot discuss politics in a civil, level-headed manner. Everyone seems to have their opinions set (self included), and no one really wants to budge. Most of my family members’ politics is heavily colored by racism, sexism, hatred of “freeloaders,” and in general, xenophobia for people immigrating into this country who do not look like them. Or, actually, for one of my family members, he just hates all immigrants, even those coming from China, in general and views them as being a leech on our welfare system, mostly “bad people” who want to rape and kill Americans and steal jobs from Americans… Yes, because our safety net is truly worth bragging about amongst all the western, industrialized nations of the world (can you sense the facetiousness in that statement?).

It was my uncle’s 70th birthday yesterday, so I sent him a gift last week and also a message to wish him a happy birthday. He replied to thank me, and also to let me know that while the entire world has been struggling with the pandemic and its restrictions, he was not one of those people struggling. In fact, he was embracing it. He’s been painting the facade of his house, and in his own words, “I’m enjoying camping out. This is fun for me.”

It was frustrating for me to read this. While I am happy that he does not feel like his life has had to changed in a drastic or negative way, it’s disturbing that anyone, during a global pandemic, could possibly say that their life has not changed for the worse, or that they’re actually embracing this. During this pandemic, people have lost jobs, lives, homes. People have lost loved ones. We cannot socialize the way we used to, weddings and even funerals have not been able to happen. International travel is off limits for anyone who is choosing to not be selfish. Going to live performances or even movie theaters has been made unacceptable. Unless you are a total anti-social, anti-people, anti-entertainment hermit, how could your life NOT be affected in a negative way due to this pandemic??

It was even worse when a group text with my uncle and cousins started regarding my cousin noting something about the Trump administration. My uncle immediately called it “fake news,” because apparently when you hear something you don’t like, it’s now totally fine to just write it off as “fake news.” He proceeded to talk about how tech companies like Facebook and Twitter need to be regulated by the government because they are restricting conservative views or “media they do not agree with.” Now, this sentiment is coming from someone who believes overall that the government should regulate LESS, and someone who has never, not even once, logged into Facebook and Twitter. Anyone who has logged into Facebook even once knows that once you show an inclination for a certain political view, you will continue to get served similar articles and points of view; that’s the way the algorithm works. You don’t need to work in the tech industry to know this. If anything, the data show that Facebook and Twitter do not censor conservative content; in fact, conservative media is favored because of all the organic conservative groups on the Facebook platform. It’s unfortunate when people continue to refuse to look at the actual data and facts and instead choose to get their “alternative facts” from their tunnel-visioned sources.

I guess this is why we have Trump as our president — he’s the president for every American who doesn’t want to believe in data, science, and anything that is actually rooted in real history. This country is only getting stupider and more pathetic to observe.

Alcohol at our apartment during the pandemic

Alcohol consumption at home has skyrocketed throughout the pandemic, as you are probably not surprised at all about. While many previously relied on socializing at bars, restaurants, and clubs throughout the world and buying their alcohol that way, all that came to a halt once the pandemic forced these “non-essential” businesses to close their doors temporarily. In a panic, people around the world started stocking up on alcohol. Local liquor and wine shops were in a state of bliss: the demand was going crazy, and they were the beneficiaries of the pandemic paranoia. Some liquor and wine shops even experienced shortages and would have to close early just because they ran out of product!

Our home alcohol consumption has increased, as well, so I guess we are also contributing to these numbers. Chris has been perusing different whiskys to taste, and he’s also been looking for some of our favorite wine and liquor brands that are in Australia to see if they are available here. Most notably, D’Arenberg wine (mmmmm, Australian shiraz) from Maclaren Vale in South Australia was found at a local wine shop, which Chris promptly ordered. He also managed to find one of our favorite gins from Australia available here, Four Pillars. Not only that, but there was an added bonus: they had specifically made a varietal of gin that is only being distributed in the U.S.!

Yep, there’s no shortage of botanicals and alcohol at our apartment. So, come on over. 😀

Turkish Adana kebabs and geography

Every Sunday is filming day at our apartment now with my new job, which I just completed week 4 of. I’m still in the process of working on my Tastes of Asia series, so I thought I’d choose a country that straddles two continents this week: Turkey. Turkey oftentimes is perceived as part of Europe, but it’s actually partly in Western Asia. When I visited Istanbul back in July 2011, I actually took a boat to the Asian part of Istanbul the city, as the city of Istanbul is technically half in Europe and half in Asia!

Two spices that were new to me when I started cooking Turkish food were sumac and Aleppo pepper. Sumac is a fruity, citrusy berry that is dried, ground up, and oftentimes used as a topping or garnish on everything from beans to salads to meats. Aleppo pepper originates in the Syria/Turkey region of the world, particularly known for its mild spiciness, fruitiness, and especially for its naturally oily feel when you rub it between your fingers. It’s a brilliant red color and notably has no seeds inside the actual pepper. Both spices are beautiful to look at as well as addictive. I used both of these spices to make a rendition of Turkish Adana kebabs, named after the fifth largest city in Turkey. Adana kebabs are loved not just for their interesting shape and appearance, but also their bouncy texture and delicious spice mixture. I used New Zealand lamb mince for mine. The Aleppo pepper gives these kebabs a unique deliciousness, and it’s rounded out with some parsley and a generous amount of salt for flavor.

I was really happy with how my kebabs came out, and ideally, if I can still get reasonably priced Australian or New Zealand lamb, would consider keeping this on rotation in our home when having a lamb craving. Looking forward to sharing this soon!

Angel Jimenez, one part Super, one part Lechonera King

We continued our weekly Saturday excursions exploring the city today by going up to Mott Haven in the South Bronx. The most notable spot we visited was not even a restaurant: it was a trailer parked on 152nd Street. We could hear the trailer from blocks away, notable because of its blaring Puerto Rican music, with a steady line of hungry locals and visitors from other parts of the city (including us), eager to try some of this borough-famous lechon, or Puerto Rican style whole roasted pig.

Angel Jimenez, the owner and chef running Lechonera La Pirana, is an HVAC installer and building superintendent attendant on the weekdays and a Lechonera king on the weekends. His family moved here from Puerto Rico decades ago, and his parents started the Lechonera out of a truck. They eventually got rid of it, and Angel replaced it with the trailer that we see today. Angel operates out of his trailer only on Saturdays and Sundays at the same spot in Mott Haven in the South Bronx, and he does it to spread his love for Puerto Rican culture and food and share it with everyone and anyone who comes for it. While he’s busy cooking and roasting in his trailer, he’s got a few locals dancing and playing instruments outside, and he also tempts his audience with free samples of everything from buttery, garlicky shrimp to sweet fried plantains. The funniest and most characteristic thing about Angel is that he cuts his lechon with, and only with, a big fat machete. That’s right — he cuts the freaking roast pig with a big, freaking machete. If you didn’t know any better and saw this guy walking down the streets of the Bronx, you’d think he was going to murder someone! He’s hacking a PIG!

When we finally got in after some time waiting, he was extremely friendly and kind. He gave us some huge, fat hunks of pork and the much coveted crackly, crispy, fatty pork skin, along with plantains since he’d unfortunately already ran out of rice and peas. That didn’t matter at all to us, though: that pork skin was truly epic. This is coming from someone who never, ever uses the word “epic.” It was so crispy, crunchy, and the fat layer just immediately melted in my mouth. It was perfectly seasoned and just so darn perfect. The huge portion he served us cost $14, which seemed nearly like robbery given how good it was.

I’m so happy we found Angel and got to taste his renowned lechon, and while it’s always rewarding to travel for food, it’s probably a good thing we don’t live too close to the South Bronx, otherwise I’d be tempted to have this every weekend. The entire experience, from finding his trailer, to the wait, to entering the inside and interacting with him and finally tasting that pork skin and juicy, moist pork — it was like a true travel experience; but we didn’t have to get on a plane for it — just the 1 train uptown for a quick ride up to the Bronx.

Rice n Beans comeback

We weren’t sure where to eat in the area tonight after a long week of work, but we realized we hadn’t had Rice n Beans, our favorite Brazilian spot, in ages. While we ordered from there quite often during the beginning of the pandemic in hopes that they wouldn’t shut down like so many other restaurants, by the time the city allowed outdoor dining for restaurants at the end of June, Rice n Beans had an ominous sign outside their store front that said their kitchen was being renovated, and that they’d be back soon. Signs like that are never good because you have no idea what any of that could be code for. But finally, we came back to the store front this evening to find them open. Apparently, new owners took over but the chef remains the same. The restaurant is in the process of rebranding from Rice n Beans to Nelore Grill NYC. The happy hour menu was no longer as long or generous, but at least they are still here with the same chef and the same food. We over ordered to allow for ample leftovers and enjoyed the same dishes we normally love, and everything tasted pretty much the same, which was delicious.

Thank goodness this place will still be open and will not succumb to the COVID-19 wave of shut downs. It’s one one of the very few restaurants in our neighborhood that we love and keep going back to since we first moved here in the summer of 2017.

AFSP donations at work

I wasn’t really sure how to post a request for donations for my AFSP fundraising drive at work this year given I’m still pretty new to the company, and Slack channels seem to have pretty strict rules in them about what you can post and when. And being remote, and well, forever remote as long as there’s no New York City office for my company, it’s going to be difficult for me to “meet” people to get to know me better so that they feel more compelled to donate to a cause I am fundraising for. But I figured I’d give it a shot anyway and post it on the Wellness Slack group. I eventually got just over $200 in donations from this effort, and so it was more than I expected I would, especially in a year of COVID-19 when everyone is clutching their purse strings more and more conservative about spending in the case that the worst possible situation happens in their lives.

Without any of the matches coming through yet, I still haven’t hit my goal of $4,000 yet, which was half of what I would have originally made it given that I’ve been increasing my goal by $1,000 each year since I began. But I’m still grateful for the generosity and hope these dollars will go towards helping others who struggled the way Ed did. I just hope they actually survive.