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Saturday
Nov292008

Give It Up for Gatsby.  

Most of you don't know that not only am I of Pakistani origin, but I'm also Punjabi.

Punjabis are a distinct breed on the subcontinent.  I like to think of us as the "rednecks" of the Indo-Pak region.  Down to earth, loud, vibrant... and, not really known for being extremely genteel.

That's why Gatsby, who wrote the following post for me and happens to be my first cousin (who I am not married to, ha ha), is a bit of an oddity in the family.

He's the guy that worries about where the salad fork goes at our family dinners while the rest of us are just eating with our hands and wiping our mouths on our sleeves.  But, you know, I feel like what's not to love about a straight guy who actually knows where the salad fork goes?  So, without further ado, I present, Mr. Manners, a.k.a. Gatsby who in my book is more than just great.

To be perfectly honest, inherent love for my own gene pool aside, the primary reason I love this man so much is that he finds new and exciting ways to prove to me that I am, by far, not the most pretentious human being I know.


******************************************************************

While we were in the middle of our salads at dinner the other day, a woman from our assembled party excused herself from the table.

In response to this action I placed my hands on the arms of the chair and lifted myself slightly to indicate the standing position for when a lady excuses herself. For this action, I got a playful curtsey from my departing friend and a light backhand to my chest from another sitting next to me.

The whole exchange of actions was kind of funny, but it made me reflect on how my reaction to her excusing herself was taken. To my friend leaving the table, I’m sure it was taken as a playful joke.  To my fellow males at the table, it was taken as an archaic custom that needed a light reality check.

To me, it was just the nice thing to do.

Despite the common saying, chivalry is not dead. I can’t purpose the contrary and say that it’s alive and well either, though. At best, it’s on a respirator in New York Medical wondering why the cab turning the corner didn’t put on the brakes a little earlier.  In this picture, chivalry seems like a naïve figure struggling to find its role in a world that is ever-changing and always cutting out the inefficient parts of society.

Often shown as a man being the hero to some maiden, the act of being chivalrous has an inherit sexism to it. A woman can open a door on her own (and vote) without the assistance of a man. She also doesn’t really need a trumpeting action indicating permission to be excused.

Nowadays, she can usually beat her own dragon.

But to the notion of sexism, I offer this approach: “don’t do it for tail.”

It’s pretty straightforward, really; just perform your actions with an emphasis on manners rather than on gender roles and heroism. I  acknowledge that manners have their own social implications and can lead to the support of habits both archaic and outdated, however what’s the harm if your intent is really just to make life easier for someone?

Handing your coat over on a cold night or leading a woman through a packed room are just ways to make the other persons life a little less stressful. And on that note, when you’re not in a crowded room – it’s best to let the woman do the leading.

Now here’s the twist. Why let it be a one way street or confined to just the opposite sex? If a woman gets to the door first, I’d say it’s chivalrous for her to keep the door open for a male friend so he can get his slow self in from the cold.  If you’ve got a sweater and coat combo going and your buddy was dumb enough to wear a single layer, fork over your coat. If he denies it on the account of being too manly, respect his choice but remind him that a coat now will prevent medicine costs in the very near future.

Overdoing it is what makes you look foolish. Forcing a coat on someone, or jumping for the door are good examples of chivalry on crack. Every action and motion should come naturally, and shouldn’t be the equivalent of a circus show or pulling teeth.

When playing this whole chivalry card it’s important to realize what your actions mean.

There will always be people who think it’s sexist. There will always be friends who think you’re doing it for brownie points. But if you want to do it, do it right, be consistent and make it a part of your basic manners.

And, keep in mind, it’s also important to not dwell on the thing too much.
Tuesday
Nov252008

Oh, Genocide, Schmenocide...

I really want to write about how every Thanksgiving I ruin everyone’s fun by reminding them that this day marks the beginning of one of the worst and most prolonged genocides in the recent history of the world.

But, not today.

Luck for you, today, I’m going to forgo talk of genocide and focus on something decidedly more awful: having to spend four days in the same house with my entire family.

I'm already warning you, this post is going to read like an essay penned by a fifth grader.  Albeit a highly gifted and very cynical fifth grader, but my apologies, anyway.

My family and I have been blessed with great abundance, more than most, and for that I’m very thankful.

Last year, I was asked to say the blessing at dinner.

I’m ashamed to admit that I just said the usual trite thanks to our Maker.  “Thanks for allowing us to be together, for our prosperity, for this food, blah blah blah.”  For the record, I’m still upset that my brother and Tariq snickered like six year olds the whole time.

If anyone asks me to say the blessing again, I’m going a different route this time.

Something like this...

“Thank you, Most Merciful Creator, for blessing this family with so much abundance.

Thank you for the abundance of competition that my parents have created within my younger brother and I.  We have made many an impression on others in our dismissal of the concept of “winning.”  Thank you, God, for illuminating our minds with the spiritual truth that winning is for losers.  Thanks to you, we both know that real winners don’t stop until their opponents experience the depths of utter and severe humiliation.  And the only real win is the one you experience at your sibling’s expense.

And, dear God, I also thank you for the abundance of politicking in my family which has led to the intermittent absences of several uncles, aunts, cousins and family friends over the past thirty years.  Each year, the number of people at our gathering dwindles, which is very good because that reduces the likelihood that someone at the gathering will make me feel homicidal.

I am also thankful for the unparalleled abundance of guilt trips in our family.  You have been so very bountiful with this one.  I know, dear God, if guilt were a religion, I’m positive that my mother would have been your appointed messenger, prophetess, and patron saint.

And, dear God, I would be remiss to offer my gratitude for my father’s lasting admonishment of me about wasting my life and talents as a petty housewife.  I am particularly grateful for the inner glee that my husband refuses to admit that he feels when my father repeatedly says he feels sorry for my husband who has to work all day while I relax all day in my big house.

Most importantly, I’d like to thank You for blessing me with a family that is a constant reminder of how this beautiful world works.

I am forever and truly thankful to You for always reminding me that we are each and every one of us both good and bad, and that we are all important and irreplaceable to each other in our own special ways.

You’ve blessed me with a dad that may tell me I’m wasting my potential, but who also tells me that I am the most intelligent person he knows.

You’ve blessed me with a a brother who lives to decimate me in Monopoly, but who has always been my truest and most loyal friend.

You’ve blessed me with a mother who is the undisputed queen of the guilt trip, but you also gave her the power to hug me in such a way that all of my biggest problems seem trivial and stupid.

You’ve blessed me with a husband, sister-in-law and in laws that have always seen me in the most flattering and esteemed ways.  Sometimes, I think You’ve caused them to love me far more than I even love myself.

You’ve blessed me with the light and and you’ve blessed me with the dark.

And this is why I am thankful for You and for the infinite ways Your wisdom and grace appears in my life."

I know.  Cop out.  But, it’s true.  It really is.

And Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, too, the ones who take the time to read what I have to write on this blog.

I am more grateful for you than you will probably ever know.
Sunday
Nov232008

Sunday Brunch at Commander's Palace

NOLA: Day 3


Sunday morning brunch at Commander's Palace. From the moment we walked in the door, I knew this place was amazing.  The staff are exceedingly friendly to the point that I started thinking maybe they had mistaken me for a celebrity or budding Secretary of State.

The building was constructed as gift by Emile Commander and intended as a wedding present for his daughter in 1880.  According to some of the staff I spoke with, his daughter broke off her engagement, so Mr. Commander decided to turn the house into a restaurant.  Their approach to Sunday brunch is classic New Orleans style: a decadent ambience that stops just short of complete sensory overload.

Commander's Palace Brunch The view from my table.

Great Music, of course Great Music, of course

Sunday brunch at Commander's consists of choosing one appetizer, one entree and a dessert.  I think this is pretty brilliant because I'm just moronic when it comes to "buffet strategies."



I selected the Bayou Black Satsuma Salad, which I now refer to as "HEAVEN."



For my entree, I ordered the Griddle Seared Gulf Fish, which I call "MORE HEAVEN."



And for dessert, the traditional Pecan Pie.  



If loving Pecan Pie this much is wrong, I don't want to be right.

My brunch companions, Traci, N. and Tariq had good stuff, too.

Tariq had bread pudding.  In my opinion, "bread pudding" is a tragic oversimplification of how good this pudding tasted.  They should call it "Rock Your Socks Off, Make You Scream For More and Cry Like a Little Child Because You Will Never Taste Anything So Lovely Anywhere Else" Pudding.



N. had the most wonderful pancakes ever and Traci's turtle soup had a lovely spicy undertone to it.

I know because I forced everyone to give me a bite of everything they ordered.  Including the people sitting next to us.  No, not really.

To my credit, I shared my food, too, because I'm a good person like that.

Good person.  Mostly. Good person. Mostly.

As the brunch wound to a close, the musicians started moving around to different tables and taking requests.  They played "When the Saints" for us, but, prior to that, they played "You Are My Sunshine" for the table next to us.  Which is my girl's favorite song.

It was without a doubt the highlight of our trip as far as she was concerned.



In case you haven't noticed, Commander's Palace was a huge hit with me.

Not just because of the food, but also because, in a lot of ways, it's representative of why I love this city so much.  The delicious food, the history of the building, the lively music, pretty colors, and the staff that treated us with not just courtesy, but actual human warmth... were symbols to me of the eclectic and deeply diverse culture of the city our country I have come to know and love.

I love New Orleans because it's an enduring symbol of the fact that Americans can boast of a very real, beautiful and organic culture.

A very, very, delicious culture that induced a three hour nap less than thirty minutes after the meal.
Sunday
Nov232008

Dinner at Mother's and Game Night

NOLA: Day Two





Traci and N. baking cookies, taken with iPhone Traci and N. baking cookies

Traci (who I will now stop calling "Jill") started the day off right by teaching my daughter how to bake chocolate chip cookies.  An auspicious beginning.

Of course, I didn't try the World Famous Ham.  Of course, I didn't try the WF Ham

We went to Mother's for dinner.  We stood at the door for about ten minutes before we realized you have to go to the counter and order for yourself and, then, you sit down and wait for them to bring the food to you.  Keep your receipt because they will ask you for it when you sit down.  I'm assuming no receipt, no food.

The place has a nice warm atmosphere, and the staff was really friendly in that homey kind of way.

It was fairly clean. Personally, when I'm searching out "authentic" food, I tend to dismiss restaurants that are "sterile."  They just don't feel right in terms of authenticity.  Blame it on my previous travels in Asia, if you must.

Mother's also has a wall of famous people photos.  My only regret is that I didn't snap a photo of the picture of Johnny Cochran hanging on the wall.

I ordered the seafood platter with potato salad and french fries because those were the only two sides that didn't have pork in them.  So bummed that the "greens" had sausage.

Fried Catfish, oysters, shrimp.  Fried Catfish, oysters, shrimp.

The food was good, but not absolutely fantastic.  I also forgot that I don't like catfish.  My daughter seemed to like it, though.

Notable exception: potato saladMother's has the best potato salad I have ever tasted. And I'm not a fan of potato salad.  Unfortunately, it was so good that I forgot to try to guess what was in it before I scarfed it down.

I also realized that B.E. Earl's suggestion that we should have gone for breakfast was right on the mark, the breakfast menu made me dizzy with mouthwatering visions of pancakes, grits and fantastical descriptions of eggs.  Earl, I assume you're going to be your usual graceful self and not comment, "I told you so" anytime soon.

After Mother's, I attended my first NBA basketball game.  Hornets v. Oklahoma City Thunder (?). We got cheap seats, but it didn't matter because the view was great and we had an amazing time.

The nosebleed section.  Not as bad as it looks. The nosebleed section. Not as bad as it looks.

I've never been a huge fan of basketball, but I am now.

Why?

I'm in awe of how those men moved and the way their intentions seamlessly intertwined with one another. Intentions then manifested into fluid physical motions that accomplished that seemingly simple, yet extraordinarily complicated task of just getting the ball to go through the net.  Or conversely, from stopping the ball from going through said net.

Really, it was extraordinary.  If you've never been to a professional basketball game, it's a must.  I would even go so far as to say: the great pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal, and an NBA basketball game.  Do those before you die, and you may leave this world with a far greater understanding than most of the magnificent depths of humankind's abilities.

Finally, here's the highlight of my evening.  There's nothing that makes me love my husband more than when I look at him and see this.

The man is just beautiful.  Inside and out.

My favorite view during the game. My favorite view during the game.

* All these photos were taken with my iPhone because I left the "wire thingy" (I've been told it's called a USB cable in some circles) at home.
Friday
Nov212008

Laissez les bontemps roule...

On our way to New Orleans and our flight’s delayed by fifteen minutes.  Just enough time to whip out an unplanned blog post.

Who knew that Orlando International had a Krispy Kreme?

I’m a little ticked off because I forgot the little wire thing that connects my camera to my laptop.  It wouldn’t be a big deal except I sort of made an idiot of myself getting a snap of the “Hot Donuts Now” sign and, now... no picture on the blog.

I asked Tariq if he wanted me to get him a donut, but he said no.  And by “no,” he meant, I’m not going to submit to your suggestion that I pollute my body with that filth.

Please don’t argue with me, I’ve known him for eleven years and been his wife for seven of them.  I am positive that’s what he meant.

So, you know what?  I told him that was fine, but he better not expect to even lick the glaze off of the nondescript white bag they’re going to put them in.  Because I’m the one who stood at the counter and let the world know that I love the taste of Krispy Kreme more than I love my pancreas.

(The pancreas is the organ that metabolizes sugar, right?)

I’ve decided that this visit to New Orleans is going to be an “eating” trip.  We're going to visit every little dive that serves authentic Louisiana cuisine in New Orleans from now until next Friday.  This is slightly complicated by the fact that I don’t eat pork, and it happens to be in everything considered delicious there.

But, hey, that makes it even more interesting doesn’t it?

It’s New Orleans halal*.

Let the adventure and the indigestion begin.

*Halal is like kosher, but not.