the wonderful world of veena.

28 May 2014

supporting st jude.

Last year I mentioned that St Jude Children's Research Hospital is one of my favourite places in Memphis. And it's true. It is a hospital dedicated to curing childhood cancers and diseases, and it does so while never charging a family for their child's treatment, because a parent's only focus should be on helping their child get better.

Because of this passion to treat children while not charging parents, you can imagine how great St Jude's daily operating costs are. All told, it costs roughly $1.8 million a day for St Jude to open its doors and treat its patients while also researching cures for these deadly diseases. It is because of donors - individuals, families, businesses, etc - that the hospital is able to continue its work each day.

Every December, Memphis hosts the St Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend, where thousands of people from all over the country come to Memphis and run to raise money for this great hospital. All participants have the opportunity to sign up as Heroes and can pledge to raise $500 [Bronze], $750 [Silver], or $1,000 [Gold] for St Jude. It's not required, but most people do it just because it's such a great cause and also because Heroes registration happens before general registration, and spots sell out fast. The race - which includes both a half and full marathon as well as the Grizzlies House 5k - is one of the largest fundraisers of the year for the hospital, with runners and teams vying for top fundraising spots.

Last year, our very own Team Rhodes raised nearly $100,000 for St Jude, landing in the top 5 of all fundraising teams. This year, Team Rhodes is going bigger and better, with goals of 150 students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends coming together to work toward raising $150,000. It's a lofty goal, but with the buzz generated by last year's team, I think it's completely doable.

In past years, I have always donated to friends who are running as Heroes. It's usually a $5 or $10 donation to each person's fundraising efforts, but it adds up. This year, I thought I'd tackle a different goal: raising a minimum of $500 myself. I registered for the 5k* [no more half marathons for me for a while] and am working my way toward my goal. I would love to raise even more if I can, but I thought I would start with $500 and go from there.

So now is the time for me to shamelessly ask for money. If you would like to help the children of St Jude, you can donate through my personal fundraising page today. Any amount, however large or small, helps save children's lives.

And as a bonus, the first 40ish people who donate to my page will receive a handwritten postcard from my collection. I am a serial postcard collector and now have cards from Hampi, Bombay, Nepal, San Francisco, Graceland, and New Orleans stacked up on my table ready to be written and sent out. I can't think of a better incentive, so donate today and receive yours in the mail soon! [I'll send them abroad, too!]

I can't think of any better way to spend $5 than to donate to this fantastic place. Can you?

And if you would like to follow the exploits of Team Rhodes, we are also on Twitter [@LynxRun4StJude] and Instagram [@rhodesruns4stjude].

*Full disclosure: I have absolutely no idea where I'm going to be on Race Day, December 6th. I could still be in Memphis, I could be somewhere else in the continental United States, I could be in India, or I could be on the moon. There's really no telling, as it depends on work and money and a whole lot of other things. Regardless, I am still committed to raising money for St Jude, because I wholeheartedly believe in their mission, and wherever I find myself on December 6th, I'll run a 5k. You have my word on that.

27 May 2014

20 of 52: my week in little rock with maddy and gina-dog.

My love for the Carroll family is no secret. It began because of my friendship with Maggie at the Clinton School - we met about a week before Orientation, realized we're both a little crazy, and have been friends ever since. We have bonded over our shared loved of all things Indian, we have supported each other through difficult personal times in our lives, and we have laughed together more times than I can remember. And through Maggie, I came to know her family: Papa John, Mama Tiziana, Molly [aka The Middle], and Maddy [aka The Little]. They invited me to their home numerous times for yummy Italian meals, and in many ways they became like another family for me when I missed my own.

Maggie has now flitted off to New York to live the life of an up-and-coming journalist and documentary filmmaker, and Molly has taken off to Seattle to make her way as an actress, but the parents and the Little are still holding strong in Little Rock.

A few months ago, Maggie messaged me with a proposition. Her parents would be traveling for a week in mid-May, and they wanted someone to stay with Maddy and to take care of Gina, their fabulous dog. Since I work from home and have a fairly flexible schedule, I jumped at the chance. A change of scenery sounded fantastic, and I looked forward to getting to hang out with the Little for a week.

And what a week it was. We went to the Greek Food Festival and to the movies. We hung out with Grady and Lydia, with the Bodini family, and with Britney. Maddy tried Slim Chickens for the first time -- only the third time Bee and I have shared the Slims with anyone. We shuttled around to bus stops and piano lessons and dance practice. We ate pizza and watched reruns of Bones and Seinfeld. I had new scenery for a few runs, and I took Gina for slow, ambling walks around the neighbourhood. I got to catch up with Alex Thomas, with Angela, and with Lauren. And I briefly got to see Caroline and Olivia [who is taller than I am now. I can't handle it].

[we tried to take the picture without smiling, but then that just made us laugh even more. perhaps being stealth is not in our blood]
[introducing the Little to the Slims. it was a match made in heaven]
[forget the nice comfortable bed she has. when we're upstairs, she sleeps at the foot of the stairs] 
[i very much enjoy laughing at the empty "traffic circles" in their neighbourhood. because if i laugh, it keeps me from screaming about how annoying they really are]
[i had to swing by central to drop off something for maddy, so obviously i couldn't resist taking a slightly crooked picture. so much history in that building]
It was great to get out of town for a bit, to have a longer time in LR, and to have a new work environment, however briefly. I think my favourite part was when Maddy dubbed me an honorary sister.

[can't you see the family resemblance? we clearly look alike]
Highest praise I've ever received.

21 May 2014

loving lately: lily allen's sheezus.

When I was visiting Lindsay and Steve - and Evelyn! - in Nashville last week, I was watching The Today Show after Lindso left for work. I've not watched the show in ages, but I happened to catch it just as they were preparing for a musical performance by Lily Allen, so I thought I would listen in.

I've not really listened to Lily Allen before, but that's more because I just have not really heard many of her songs. I've always heard people say that they were good, but I somehow don't remember ever hearing any of them. It's a well-known fact that I sometimes live under a rock, so we'll chalk it up to that and move on.

So back to last Wednesday. She was on to promote her new album Sheezus [yes, inspired by that Kanye album of a similar name] and sang one of the singles, "Our Time". I really liked the song, both in lyrics and in sound, and filed it away to come back to. The beats were really good, and since I'm always on the lookout for new running music, I wrote myself a note to check out the rest of the album once I was back in Memphis [yes, I still write myself handwritten notes. you don't?].

And in a nutshell, it's great. The songs are catchy, the beats are lively, and some of the lyrics are pretty thought-provoking, particularly my current favourite song, "Hard Out Here" [the video is a bit graphic, so I'll just link to it rather than including it in the post].

I've listened to the album a few times while running this week, and I have to say, I kind of love it. And I would definitely recommend purchasing / downloading the Explicit version. You'll miss out on the meaning of a lot of the songs if you get the "clean" one. That's not to say that it's overly graphic or anything; I'm generally a fan of purchasing songs / albums the way the artists intended them to be heard.

And now I'm going to go work on my face so I don't end up on my own.

20 May 2014

movie review: million dollar arm.

This was pretty much the perfect movie for me. Two hours of Jon Hamm, baseball, and cameos of India and cricket? Sign me up.

So back in circa 2008, this whole "Million Dollar Arm" was a real challenge. And apparently it's still a thing. And somehow, despite living in India at the time, I completely missed that it happened. Didn't see it on the news, didn't read about it online, didn't hear anything about it. But I guess enough other people heard about it, because it seems to have been a success. The NY Post did a pretty good recap of the original story, if you're interested.

The film that released last Friday tells the story of the down-on-his luck sports agent, JB Bernstein as played by Jon Hamm, who decides to find a way to get in on the ground floor of the last great untapped sports market - India. Prior to this challenge, no Indian had signed any kind of athletic contract with a North American sports club, and with cricket as the main sport of choice throughout the country, it still isn't likely that it will happen again too often in the coming years.

JB convinces an investor to support a talent competition with the following premise: JB will spend a few months traveling around India, holding auditions for cricket players to try their hand at baseball and the chance to win $1 million. For the thousands of boys who showed up for the auditions, a million dollars is unheard of; many of them hailed from small villages with no running water or electricity in their homes, so a sum of this magnitude was probably more than they could even fathom.

Ultimately two boys, Rinku and Dinesh, win the competition in India [along with $100,000 for Rinku and $10,000 for Dinesh, still pretty large sums] and travel back to LA with JB. Used to living alone in his bachelor pad and wooing supermodels, JB suddenly has to get used to sharing his home and his life with three young Indian men [Rinku and Dinesh along with Amit, their translator] who speak little-to-no English and have never been outside of India before.

Over the course of the movie we see how JB's character changes: he starts out as a desperate agent on his last legs, becomes more human during his time in India, goes back to being a money-hungry agent when a potentially big client comes knocking, and ultimately finds his redemption in his relationship with the players and with Brenda, his neighbour [played wonderfully by Lake Bell. I've loved seeing her around so much the last few years].

Don't get me wrong, it's definitely a Disney movie, and you get glimpses of that throughout. You start out mostly knowing how the whole thing is going to arc, but it's still a pretty entertaining ride. As is my opinion on most movies these days, it was about 20 minutes too long, but that could stem more from my inability to sit still for long periods of time than from anything else. And from reading the Post article as well as a few things on Wikipedia, I keep thinking they switched up the stories of the two boys in the movie. Can anyone back me up on that? Regardless, it's a good movie, and I think you'll like it if you see it.

And if you do decide to watch it, yes, Rinku is the kid from Life of Pi, and Dinesh is the friend from Slumdog Millionaire. I spent almost the entirety of the movie trying to figure out where I had seen each of them, so now you don't have to. You're welcome.

Also, if you've ever been to India, you'll have a few laughs at some of the little nuances and subtle jokes they throw in there. There were a few bits where I was definitely the only person in the theater laughing, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Now go forth and watch Million Dollar Arm. It's definitely worth a viewing.

19 May 2014

book review: one more thing [bj novak]

When I finally finished The Round House [Louise Erdrich] last month, I knew I needed a break from "serious" books. I had it in my mind that I wanted to tackle Infinite Jest [David Foster Wallace] once summer started, but I needed something in between those two books to calm my brain and refocus myself.

Enter One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories* by BJ Novak. We all know BJ Novak from his role on The Office as well as his cameos in other movies such as Saving Mr Banks. He's funny and adorable and slightly awkward, and you really can't help but love him a little.

When I first found out that he was writing a book of short stories, I was pretty excited. Knowing that he had been a writer for The Office, I assumed his book would be a little funny, a little quirky, and extremely entertaining. When the book came out to rave reviews, I added it to my list and waited for it to be released in paperback.

And then, maybe a month ago, I decided I didn't really care about hardback-versus-paperback in this case, and I ordered it from Amazon. And when I got to the end of The Round House, I needed something a little lighter on my brain, so I decided to crack this one open.

This book gave me that opportunity to clear my mind along with so much more.

BJ - because we're on a first name basis now - has such a unique voice, and I loved each and every one of his stories, whether they were 3 lines or 20 pages long. I liked that a few of the characters were recurring and showed up in different stories along the way. I liked that he switched voices in each one, showing off his ability to get into the mindset of nearly anyone. And I really liked that it was a light, simple read that still made you think from time-to-time. It was exactly what I needed, and it was thoroughly enjoyable.

I would definitely recommend this book. If you are a fan of BJ Novak, of The Office, of short stories, or of entertainment in general, check it out.

And say hello to the girl who gives great advice for me.

*A quick note: this is an affiliate link generated by Amazon. That means that if you purchase the book using this link, I will receive a very tiny portion for recommending the product. It won't increase your price at all, it's just a way for me generate a small revenue when I post these reviews. I don't receive any money from Amazon for the review, so I choose what I want to review and when. Thank you to anyone who uses the link to purchase the book!

17 May 2014

19 of 52: a nashville show.

After seeing an acoustic performance by two of Bombay Bicycle Club's members at NH7 Weekender in Pune in October 2012, I have not been able to stop listening to them. I had heard of them before and had listened to a few songs, but I had a new appreciation for them after that live performance.

In following them, I was able to download their latest album, So Long See You Tomorrow, when it released last fall, and it was quickly inculcated into my running playlists. It introduces a new sound for the group and allows them to advance themselves as musicians, which is really fun to listen to.

Earlier this year, the band announced a US tour. Out of sheer curiosity, I decided to go through and see where they were playing. I knew they'd hit the big spots, like New York, LA, and Chicago, and I also knew they weren't playing in Memphis, as it would have been announced already, but I figured there was no harm in just checking.

And lo and behold, there it was: a show in Nashville on May 14! I hurriedly checked my calendar and noted I didn't have anything scheduled around that time, so I knew it was going to be a priority of mine to get to that show. I asked Natasha if she would be interested in going with me, and I purchased our tickets [which were $17 each, for the record. included an opening band. I'll take it] about a month ago.

The show was on Wednesday, but I drove over on Tuesday - one of the perks of working from home - so I could spend an evening with Lindsay, Steve, and baby Evelyn. On Wednesday evening I dropped my stuff at Natasha's condo, and then we headed over to find the venue and dig up some grub.

[because it's not really a trip to nashville until i get to see my muffin]
The show was at Exit/In, a cool venue near Vanderbilt. It was General Admission, and there were no seats, only an open floor, so rather than try to get right in the middle, we grabbed a drink and staked out a spot close to the stage on the side.

Opening for BBC was Royal Canoe, a really cool Canadian group I hadn't heard of before. They had a great energy on stage, and although there was a lot of feedback from the speakers during their set, I really liked their sound. Definitely a band worth checking out. [they're playing at Bonnaroo this summer, for anyone heading that way]

[royal canoe in action]
And then the smoke started, and here came the guys of Bombay Bicycle Club. They launched straight into "Overdone", the opening song from their latest album, and it was awesome right from the opening note all the way through the last song. And they had a guest singer - Liz Lawrence - performing with them, who was fantastic. Her voice really added a nice depth to some of the songs.

[the smoke messed up my pictures a bit, but trust me when i say they were awesome]
It was so different to see the whole group and to see a full performance, and we had a blast. We felt a little out of place in the crowd - lots of hipsters in a small space - but we had fun dancing and shouting along with the rest. BBC's got such a great presence and energy on the stage, and I'm so glad it worked out for me to be able to see them and get to introduce a new friend to them.

[awesome, awesome show]
They've got a few more dates in Texas this week and then they're off to play festivals around Europe, but if you ever get the chance to see them, definitely take it. I promise you won't regret it.

other highlights included: picked up my copy of Infinite Jest [spoiler: it's a whopper]; gave a lift to a Couchsurfer and had a wonderful drive to Nashville chatting with him; spent some time with baby Evelyn; quality time with Natasha; a Shelby Farms walk with Walker, baby Lena, and Bailey the dog; finished reading One More Thing and am gearing myself up to begin Infinite Jest; found out I've been approved to be a Girl Rising Regional Ambassador!

Now I'm just trying to figure out where I can stalk them to next.

12 May 2014

book review: the round house [louise erdrich].

I'll be honest, this was a pretty difficult book for me to get through. The primary plot, which revolves around a Native American woman being raped on a reservation in North Dakota in 1988 and the ensuing difficulties in launching an investigation into it, was difficult enough to read about on a human level, but I also found Erdrich's writing to be slow and plodding in parts.

I've heard a lot and read a bit in recent years about the difficulties women living on reservations face. Not only is the rate of domestic violence and the prevalence of rapes high on reservations, but jurisdiction also becomes difficult, with state police, tribal police, and the FBI all claiming various roles in investigations. Most reports say that 1 in 3 Native women will be raped in their lifetime, and according to the Afterword of Erdrich's book, 86% of these rapes and sexual assaults are by non-Native men.

Because the justice system works more slowly on reservations, and because many women do not report being assaulted - making those numbers even higher than 1 in 3 - you don't hear much in mainstream media about the crimes against women that are occurring unless you take the initiative to learn about it or know someone who is from states where there are larger populations living on reservations, such as in North Dakota. Strides have been made in recent years to increase prosecutions and convictions of these cases, but it is a slow process and still has a long way to go.

Having heard some of these sobering - and sad - statistics before, I was quite interested in reading this book. I was intrigued to learn a bit more about how things are run on a reservation, and since this book won the National Book Award in 2012, I thought it would be a good option. And while I can see why critics took to the book and got caught up in Erdrich's rich descriptions of life on a reservation, it didn't quite do it for me.

The main narrator of the book is Joe, the 13-year-old son of Geraldine, the woman who gets raped in the opening chapter of the book. We follow Joe in the months following his mother's attack as he sees her recovery and regression and teams up with his friends to launch their own investigation into what really happened, since the different authorities cannot decide who has jurisdiction in the case. We also see how Joe deals with being a teenager desperate to grow up but who occasionally lapses into childlike behaviours.

I finished the book a little over a week ago, and when I think back, the biggest thing I remember is reading for pages and pages where it didn't seem like anything really happened. Erdrich's descriptions are very detailed and thorough, but I guess I just like a little more action in my books, so having to get through such long build-ups wasn't really my thing.

I wouldn't say I disliked the book, because I didn't, but it wasn't my favourite. And honestly, because it took me so long to read - nearly the entire month of April - by the time I got to the end, I had forgotten some of the details from the beginning.

All that being said, however, if this is a subject matter you're interested in, you might "enjoy" it more than I did. It was by no means a bad book; it just wasn't a good book for me.

currently reading: One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories [BJ Novak]
next from the list: Infinite Jest [David Foster Wallace]

11 May 2014

18 of 52: enjoying the memphis eateries.

This was one food-filled week for Veena.

I have mentioned plenty of times on here how great Memphis is for food lovers. There's bbq, there's Asian, there's Indian. There are sandwiches and delis and Kwik Chek. There are more great restaurants in this city than you could ever hope to adequately visit in your lifetime, and there are new ones opening practically every week.

And last week, I got to visit 4 of those awesome places in 3 nights. Yes, that means I had two dinners in one night. And no, I'm not ashamed.

About 6 weeks ago, a few of us started a Tuesday Night Ladies' Night tradition, and each week we try a new restaurant for dinner. I had intentions of doing a roundup of the restaurants we've been to so far, and maybe one day in the near - or distant - future, that will happen. So far we have been to India Palace, Sakura, Bhan Thai, and Pho Saigon, and last week Walshie and I got takeout from Mulan [are you sensing an Asian theme happening yet?]. All have been pretty fabulous, and this week's selection was no different.

Walshie had been hearing about Skew-er for a while, so we decided to hit it up this week. Known for their skewers - hence the name - and ramen, I was initially torn over what to order, but the Tonkotsu Ramen sounded so good - and the picture looked so appetizing - that I opted for that. Since there were 4 of us, we decided to share a One For All skewer sampler, which gave us one each of ground chicken, salmon, grilled vegetables, asparagus, pork, beef ball, beef tenderloin, and shrimp. It was great, and at $5 per person, pretty reasonable for the amount of food that we got.

[the one for all skewer set]
Out of all the ramens we ordered, I'd have to say I liked mine the best. Not because I'm trying to brag, but mostly because mine had chili paste in it which added some flavour to the broth, unlike the other two which were good but rather bland for my taste [for the record, Chrystal had the Gokumiso ramen, and Christina had the Sapporo ramen]. Walshie had one of the Japanese rice bowls; it was good but kind of like a poor man's bi bim bap without the sizzle bowl. Regardless, it was a very good visit, and I will definitely be returning at some point in the future. Insider Info: Located on Sanderlin behind Fox & Hound. Known for their skewers and ramen, they also have sushi which looked pretty good. I paid for Walshie's and my dinners, and the total for both was $33 including tip, so it's pretty reasonably priced, especially for the amount of food you get. Bonus points for being in the same shopping center as Muddy's, so we definitely got cupcakes after dinner.

[my tonkotsu ramen. it was pretty delicious]
On Wednesday, we were supposed to have dinner to celebrate Maggie Goodman's return to Memphis, but of course United Airlines foiled our plans when they canceled her flight. But no worries, I met the Walsh sisters at Sakura for dinner instead. I knew going into it that if they had their Jungle Roll on special, that's what I was going to order. I had the Joyce Roll on my first visit - one of ILoveMemphis' 100 Things to Eat in Memphis - and while it was delicious, I had my eye on the Jungle Roll this time. It has all sorts of stuff on it, most of which I cannot remember, but the tipping point for me was the jalapenos. I'm a sucker for anything with jalapenos. And with the Walsh sisters in tow, what more could you ask for? [They had the Mexican and Phoenix rolls, both of which are always great, fyi] Insider Info: Located on Poplar between Perkins and Mendenhall. Large quantities. The salmon sashimi is pretty good, too.

[i forgot to get a picture of my jungle roll, but this is my joyce roll from last month. fried tempura deliciousness]
On Thursday, I had TWO dinners. First I met the Strickland family - Mark, Traci, Carter, and Andrew - at Huey's for dinner. I nannied for Carter right after I graduated from Rhodes, back when he was about 8 months old and I was a fresh-faced college graduate trying to figure out what the heck I wanted to do with my life. I've not seen him since he was about 2.5, and he's now a whopping 10 years old! And has a little brother, Andrew, to boot. So a few weeks ago Traci and I started hatching a plan to meet for dinner, and it finally worked out on Thursday for us to meet at Huey's. I had my signature Senor Huey, but really my highlight was getting to catch up with the whole family and getting to see my little Carter-man [I'll be honest, I teared up when I saw how tall he's gotten]. As per usual, the food was delicious. Insider Info: Multiple locations throughout Memphis; my personal favourite is the original location in Midtown. Everything is delicious, but it's an unwritten rule that you should always order the cheese fries.

And then I headed down to Second Line to finally get to have that dinner with Maggie, who made it in town on Thursday afternoon. Joining us were Walshie, Abby, Leslie, and Leah, and we took advantage of the awesome weather and snagged a table out on the patio. Bonus points for being Thursday night, so we got to listen to the music from ThursdaysSquared without paying the $5 cover. And the lovely fairy lights just made it that much better. I was full from my first dinner, but once I saw the menu, I knew there was no going back. I opted for the shrimp po boy with a side of red beans and rice, and it was awesome. I ate half the po boy and only about a quarter of the red beans and rice, carrying the rest home to have for lunch on Friday. Pretty genius, if I do say so myself. Insider Info: Located at the corner of Monroe and Cooper. They offer valet parking for $8, but if you drive around long enough, you'll find something on the street, or in the Overton Square or Studio on the Square lots for free. It's pricey, but it's worth it every once in a while. Be prepared to wait a while for a table unless you go super early or super late. If you go for brunch, the Bloody Marys are fantastic.

[the remains of my po boy and red beans and rice. made for a delicious friday lunch]
other highlights included: my first day volunteering at the Mid-South Food Bank; productive work days; DeltaCappella album release and spring concert; taking over Huey's [yes, for the second time] on Saturday night; Mother's Day lunch at PF Chang's.

[deltacappella in concert. that's the youngest walsh sibling front and center belting out paperback writer. it was fantastic]
And now I'm going to have to up my running mileage this week to counteract all that ridiculous eating from last week.

08 May 2014

veena's version of things to see and do in nyc.

I realize this is horribly late, since I returned from my NY trip over a month ago, but I figure there's still some useful information in here, so I now present to you my impressions of all the places I ate and drank during my week-long visit to New York at the end of March. You're welcome.

[also, be warned: this is going to be a very long post. but it's got pictures!]

to eat [and occasionally also drink]:

On my first night in town, Maggie and I had dinner at Bonchon. Known for their chicken dishes, we nonetheless managed to find some vegetarian dishes for Maggie, and we had ourselves a nice little romantic dinner together, hidden away at the back of the restaurant and pretty much only seen by our server. The food was good, although the portions was far too big, and I ended up taking most of my main course home with me. It was a little pricey - by my standards, not New York's - but two people could easily split the main dishes and therefore the bill, which would make it less so. It was a nice place, but I would recommend a few of the other places on this list ahead of it. insider info: Bonchon has multiple locations. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea which one we went to. It was my first night in town, and we went from an event in Union Square, so your guess is as good as mine.

On the first morning that I met Jason for work, he took me to Four Eighty Two Court Cafe for breakfast. It's a cute little coffee shop around the corner from his house in Carroll Gardens, and although it's only been open for about 3 months, it looks as though it's been there for years if not decades, seamlessly blending into the neighbourhood around it. Although I don't drink coffee, their hot chocolate was pretty good, and the ham and cheese breakfast croissant I had was delicious. Drinks and sandwiches for both of us was $20, which seemed a little steep for me, but it was definitely a nice place. insider info: Location: Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. We went around 10.30am, and there were only 2 other people in there.

I actually got to eat at Calexico twice - once near Carroll Gardens for lunch with Jason, and once in Greenpoint for lunch with Maggie. On one occasion I had a carne asada burrito, which was awesome. So tasty, and the salsas they give you add just a perfect hint of extra flavour. When I had lunch with Maggie, she and I split a lunch special, which was perfect -- 2 mini-tacos, Mexican rice, and chips and salsa. It was just the ideal amount for each of us, and at only $5 each, it made both of us happy. If you're ever in New York, make sure to check out one of their locations or food carts. insider info: Two locations in Brooklyn, both are cool in their own way. Didn't see the lunch specials at the Carroll Gardens location, though.

Maggie and I stumbled upon Brother Jimmy's BBQ in Union Square because we were in search of fried stuff one night, and the bartender at Headless Horseman pointed us in their direction. We walked in the doors and immediately felt like we had been transported into some warped version of the South. They have bbq as well as some pretty legit mac 'n cheese, they have fried okra, and they have my personal favourite, the pickleback shot. Abi and Sastri were so intrigued by my descriptions that they insisted we return on Sunday night for dinner as well. insider info: Location: E 16th St near Union Square. The ribs are just ok [keep in mind that's coming from a Memphian], but the drink options are pretty great. And the sides are legit, except for the mashed potatoes and gravy.

[our sunday night dinner spread - ribs, fried okra, and mashed potatoes and gravy]
On Sunday afternoon I met Sastri, Bianca, and some of Bianca's friends at Fred's for brunch on the. B and I had discussed doing Sunday brunch, and Fred's was one of the more interesting options that popped up on my Yelp search [bonus points for being walking distance to Sastri's and my next stop, the American Museum of Natural History]. We didn't have too long of a wait, thanks mostly in part to Bianca's friends who got there early and got their names on the list. Fred's has a great brunch deal - $16.95 gets you an entree plus a cocktail / juice and coffee / tea. I went with a Salmon Benedict, which was delicious, and a Bloody Mary, which was excellently made. But the highlight - for everyone, I think - were the homemade muffins with strawberry butter. Those alone are worth any wait you might have to incur. Definitely hit this one up if you're in the city. insider info: Located on Amsterdam Ave on the Upper West Side. Next time I go, I'll get the normal Eggs Benedict.

[salmon benedict. that's right, i said salmon benedict]
On my last night in the city, Abi, Maggie, Tyler, and I had dinner at Emporio. It's a lovely little place that feels super cozy, and we definitely settled in for a few hours. We had a few bottles of wine, we shared some yummy appetizers [the wood roasted beets and the risotto croquettes], and we enjoyed some delicious meals [Maggie and I split a pizza, because they're ginormous]. It's a little on the pricey side, but it's definitely worth it if you want a nice dinner with some great ambience. It also gets bonus points for being right around the corner from Abi's house. insider info: Location: Mott St in Nolita. If you have more than 3 people, just split a bottle of wine. The pastas are great for one person, but the pizzas should definitely be split between two people. And definitely get dessert - we had some sort of chocolate-filled crepes, and they were delicious.

On Wednesday morning, before heading to the airport, I met Nate for breakfast at the Silver Spurs Diner. I'm a sucker for a diner, so I loved the atmosphere, and the flapjacks I had were both delicious and exactly what I needed to soak up the last little bit of alcohol left in my stomach from the previous night. Diners are always a good decision. insider info: Location: corner of Houston and LaGuardia Pl. Get the flapjacks. And then call me and thank me.

to drink:

Maggie and I discovered the Headless Horseman by sheer luck. We weren't able to get into the improv show we wanted to see on Saturday night, and not knowing anywhere to go near Baruch College, we decided to head back to Union Square, an area we both knew better, and see what we found. When we searched on Yelp, we were both intrigued by any place called the Headless Horseman, so we decided to check it out. Even though it was Saturday night, we managed to snag the last two seats at the bar, so we decided to hang around for a bit. The drinks were pretty reasonably priced, and the fries with aioli were delicious. And when we were craving fried stuff, it was Marco the bartender who pointed us in the direction of Brother Jimmy's. I was back on Sunday with Abi and Sastri, and even though the kitchen was technically "closed", Marco managed to score us some freshly-made fries, so the HH has a customer for life in me. Bonus points for just being cool. insider info: Location: E 15th St near Union Square. Happy Hours every day from 4-8pm. Tell Marco I said hey.

For our last stop on our Saturday night adventures, Moo and I ended up at Toby's Public House. It was pretty late when we got there, so the kitchen was closed, but we just wanted to chill and have a drink, so it was fine by us. It was also pretty empty by the time we got there, so we snagged a big high table for ourselves and settled in. We both opted for a Bloody Mary which was delicious but extremely large; neither of us were able to finish it, even after nearly an hour! If I'm not mistaken, it had jalapenos in it, which was awesome. insider info: Locations in Nolita and Brooklyn. The wood-fire pizzas looked legit, but we were too late for food.

When searching for places to go on Sunday evening, Sastri and I discovered Pete's Tavern near Union Square [it's a good area]. It's fancier inside than either of us expected, more of a dinner-with-drinks place than a place to just drop in for one round. Regardless, we both and Abi stayed and had a drink, and it was nice. The prices were pretty reasonable, and the place was pretty cool -- we had fun looking at the pictures of famous people who had been there that are up on the walls. insider info: Location: E 18th St near Union Square. I would suggest going for dinner as opposed to just a drink; the food menu looked pretty good.

And last, but certainly not least, was Mother's Ruin. After our dinner at Emporio we all decided we wanted to have another drink, and Abi suggested Mother's Ruin as one of her favourite places, so off we set. It was hopping when we got there around 10.30pm and continued to hop until Abi and I left around 2.30am...? We had a great time, and even managed to make a few new friends. It's a great neighbourhood bar to check out if you're ever in the city. insider info: Location: Spring St in Nolita. Those pickleback shots are dangerous.

other things to do:

Sastri and I both like dinosaurs, so the American Museum of Natural History was a natural choice for our Sunday afternoon outing. We spent a couple of hours overall inside the museum, with most of it spent exploring the dinosaur exhibit, which was seriously cool. We saw a bit of the exhibits on Native Americans, but as the museum was getting ready to close, we unfortunately had to cut those short. I loved the museum, though, and would love to return the next time I'm in the city. insider info: Location: Upper West Side. The lines for the lift are far too long; unless you have strollers or wheelchairs, take the stairs.

[this is what greets you as soon as you walk into the museum]
[and this is what you see upon entering the dinosaur exhibit the back way. sastri and i like to do things differently]
[freaky long arms. i would hate to see this thing flying toward me]
I feel like I don't really need to tell you to go to Central Park, but here it is just in case. It's such a fabulous space smack dab in the middle of Manhattan, and you can't help but feel you're in a special place when you're there. It's been immortalized in so many books and television shows and movies, and yet it somehow distinctly becomes your own space, too. I have sat for hours and just watched -- the people walking and running, the families playing, the students sunbathing or reading. It's a pretty wonderful place. insider info: I don't have any. Just go.

[even on a cloudy sunday evening, it still feels kind of magical]
There are tons of other museums to see, historical sites to visit, and things to do. I didn't get to do all of those since I was in town for work, but they're all worth a visit if you have the time. There is never a shortage of things to do in a place like New York City.

getting around:

If you're traversing New York City, you've got to use the MTA. I personally know the subway best, which isn't really saying too much. It's confusing as hell, but there are plenty of apps to help you navigate, and once you get the hang of where you need to go, it gets easier. I still have trouble with all the different exits once I get to a station, but I just get myself above-ground and then figure out where I need to go. insider info: there are options for unlimited ride 7-day and 30-day MetroCards, so if you're in town longer than a few days and will be using the subway a lot, those are great options. and hold on to your MetroCard if you think you'll be back anytime soon, mine that I got in March doesn't expire until June 2015!

There is no shortage of cabs all throughout the city, but I'll be honest, the only time I took cabs were between the airport and my cousin's apartment. They're more expensive than the subway or buses, and you run the risk of getting stuck in traffic. I was extremely lucky in that Abi's apartment was less than a 10-minute walk to about 8 different subway lines, so I also was never in great need of taking a cab. And the only reason I did it for the airport is because unlike with JFK, the subway doesn't run directly into LaGuardia, and I didn't feel like lugging my suitcase around. If I had my rucksack, it probably would have been a different story.

There are also tons of new apps such as Uber and Lyft where you can book a car online and get picked up from wherever you are and dropped to your exact destination. If it's super cold out - or if you're in a precarious state - these can be better options than searching for a cab. And your credit card information is saved on the app, so the payment is automatic. We got an Uber ride home from dinner the first night, and it was pretty cool. Both Uber and Lyft are constantly expanding their locations - I know Uber is in Bombay, and both just arrived in Memphis! - so if you live in a city that has either or both, be sure to sign up. I know Uber also offers discounts if friends sign up using your referral code, so use your online networks to get free rides around your city [I don't know if Lyft offers this, but it's something to look into]. As a reference: I just signed up in Memphis, and the fare from downtown to my home, about a 40-minute drive, is roughly $30. That is significantly cheaper than a cab, it's safer, and it creates the option of going out with friends and not having to drive back home.

I told you it was going to be long, but I think I'm finally finished. Hope you find some sort of useful information in all this rambling.

Here's to New York.

06 May 2014

17 of 52: a visit from Shalini.

My friend Shalini came to visit last week, and I had a blast showing her around our great city of Memphis.

Shalini is a friend of mine from Bangalore, and she came to the States for grad school at the same time I did, completing her MPP from the Ford School at Michigan and picking up another Masters degree along the way [read: she's super smart]. She is currently working in DC but is preparing to move to Paris in a month to join Uday, her husband and another great friend of mine, who recently got transferred there as part of his job with the bank BNP Paribas. Her work is slow at the moment since she'll be leaving soon, so it worked out for her to make a quick trip to Memphis, which made me very happy.

I love showing visitors around Memphis, because there is so much to see and do. There's something for art and music lovers, for history buffs, for foodies, for drinkers, and for sports fans. And we tried our best to hit up something from each of those in the 3 days Shalini was in town.

On Saturday morning we met Natasha, in town for a wedding, for lunch at Young Avenue Deli, a spot in Cooper Young that I've probably not been to since I graduated. After lunch, we headed over to Rhodes to grab a drink at the Lynx Lair [still feels weird to say that] and to show Shalini the campus. We then picked up our Earth Day 5k race packets at Shelby Farms and took a little stroll along the lake. It's been crazy cold in DC recently, so Shalini was excited to have some nice weather and be able to spend some time outdoors. And then Saturday night saw my mum, Shalini, and myself heading down to the FedEx Forum to cheer on the Grizz. We lost a heartbreaker in OT, but I think Shalini enjoyed her first NBA experience. Because come on, what's not to love about a Grizzlies game [other than the loss, of course]?

[love that i can get jackalope at the lair. where was this when i was in school?]
[beautiful afternoon at shelby farms park]
[growl towels up. #believememphis]
It was raining cats and dogs on Sunday, which is what happens when you get two Bangaloreans together. We were sad that the 5k at Shelby Farms got cancelled, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that both of us loved the rainy weather. It was a proper Bangalore day, so we were both happy. Instead of going out, we spent most of the day watching Friday Night Lighs reruns, and we made yummy kheema and stuffed okra for dinner.

Monday was our crazy tourist day. The rain stopped in the early morning, so we took full advantage of the cool weather and cloudy skies to get out and see the city. Our first stop was Blue Plate for breakfast, where Shalini got to experience proper Southern biscuits and gravy. After that it was on to Graceland, my personal staple for anytime friends come to town. It helped that Shalini is also a bit of an Elvis connoisseur, so not only did she enjoy it immensely, but I didn't feel bad about taking an extra long time through the trophy building or watching the concert in the racquetball room for a solid 20 minutes.

[creepy little bugger who hangs out in the tv room]
[i guess he was pretty good]
[shalini and me in front of the mansion]
From there we made a quick stopover at the Nike Clearance Store, since it's just down the road from the mansion, and then we were off to Beale Street. We headed to Alfred's first for a drink, where we nearly had the place to ourselves and had a few interesting conversations with our bartender. We were starting to get hungry, so it was down to Blues City Cafe for some gumbo and ribs, which were delicious and gnawed down to the bone.

Following our lunch, we took a walk down to South Main to peek in a few galleries, pick up some Grizzlies swag, and check out the exterior of the Civil Rights Museum since it was too late to be able to see the inside [note: the renovations just finished and the museum re-opened a month ago, so be sure to go and check out the new exhibits!]. We then grabbed a drink at Silky's and enjoyed watching the goats wander aimlessly in their pen out on the patio. And we rounded out our day listening to the band playing on the pavilion in Handy Park before heading home. It was an exhausting day, but we had a blast.

[monday evening entertainment on beale st. just another day in memphis]
And on Tuesday, we had an awesome lunch at Curry Bowl - complete with free phulkas and free mango lassi - before stopping by Sweet Noshings so Shalini could pick up some popcorn to take back with her.

[in overton square before heading to the airport]
It was a whirlwind few days, but we got to see and do a lot, we enjoyed a bit of rainy Bangalore weather, and it gave me a chance to hang out with Shalini one more time before she heads off for her European adventures.

other highlights included: downtown trolley night; new Memphis restaurant discoveries; a nice walk around Shelby Farms with Walker and Lena; father-daughter Friday lunch; fun night at Dugan's in LR for some basketball-watching -- met a Packers fan, a girl who graduated from Rhodes a few years ago, and a 70ish-year-old man who grew up in Helena, ran into Mitchell and his mother, got to hang out with Vamsi, AND got told by the bartender how sexy it is when a woman can talk sports [that last one was a great boost for my ego]; my cousin's daughter's saree ceremony in Little Rock.

[earnestine and hazel's during trolley night]
[friday night scenes at brewery untapped] 
[loving my finds from reel2reel on south main]
[damn straight]
Now, who is going to be my next Memphis visitor?

05 May 2014

movie review: divergent.

After reading the first book in the Divergent trilogy in early March, I finally got to see the movie in the cinema when I returned from my crazy visits to DC and New York at the end of the month. And just as expected, I loved it.

This was one of the better books-to-movies that I've seen in quite a while, and it stayed more true to the book than I expected it to. It hit all the right notes, it had all the big scenes, and it had the easy-on-the-eyes hot guy with the stubble, so it was pretty much perfect for me.

Even though I had pretty high expectations going into it, mostly because I had read the book so recently, I really enjoyed it. The main thing that disappointed me was that one of my favourite lines from the book was left out -- when Four is giving Tris advice going into her fear simulator, he says to her, "It's when you're acting selflessly that you are at your bravest." It's such a great line that really brings together so many aspects of his character and gives great insight into his thoughts, and I kept waiting and waiting for it to show up, to no avail.

Other than that, it was a great time-pass movie. It moves along quickly, it's entertaining, and it's got some pretty good acting. It's not going to change the movie-making industry, and it's not going to win any awards, but it's definitely worth watching, especially if you're a fan of the books.

And now on to read the second book, Insurgent, and wait [im]patiently until next March for its cinematic release. Surely I can find ways to entertain myself until then.