A Typical Summer Day in Astoria, New York

I get up, walk the dog. We’re out of coffee, so I get a bagel and iced coffee from the bodega.

I work. The FedEx guy stops by to drop off a letter for the upstairs neighbor. He remembers my name and makes another joke about how cool he thinks it is.

In the afternoon, I walk to the hair salon. My hairdresser has a thick Queens accent, sounding a lot like Peter’s wife on The Family Guy (they may be from Rhode Island but wow, it all sounds the same to me). So does everyone else in the salon, and I’m the only one not speaking Greeklish when I get a little angry or want to say something secretive.

I walk home. I work, listening to the gang of pre-teens who gather in front of our stoop before they go off to the park for the special fireworks show. Some of the kids are innocent and sweet, some are in the phase where they’re trying to one-up all their friends. I tell one of the loud ones to “keep it down please.” It works, he shuts up and apologizes.

I hear a “hello” and a knocking sound coming from the back part of the house, or maybe upstairs. I’m not sure. I choose to ignore it, since it’s not my front door, until Charlie has a near panic/bark attack. I get up from my office and see my landlord, Christos, peering into our back window. “Hello!” he says in his thick Greek accent, “come!”

So I walk back, curious and hoping it might be a unicorn or a puppy. He says “wait a minute,” and I look out the window — there’s a huge barbeque grill set up and a 12-pack of Coronas. A portly friend of his is manning the grill. Christos grabs a big wad of something wrapped in foil, and hands it to me.

“Oh, um, oh, thank you!” I say, inhaling the deep intoxicating smell of freshly grilled animal flesh.

I open it up. And gasp.

That's three sausages and four kabobs of meat.

Now I’m off to the grocery store to get pita bread, tomatoes and the ingredients for tzatziki sauce!

Human Hamster Wheels and Spinning Meat

This past week our Mexico City friends Lesley and Crayton stayed with us, and Saturday “we partied allllllll day,” as Crayton put it. We started with the ginormous Bloomberg employee Summer Picnic  on Randall’s Island and ended with the feast of San Antonio Abate in Astoria.

At the picnic, we clowned around, eating fried Twinkies and taking silly photos:

We also had free sangria. OK, we had lots of free sangria.

We admired the over-the-top decorations.

Lesley and I made free t-shirts at the crafts booth, while Brendan and Crayton watched the U.S. lose to Ghana on the jumbotron.

Just a small portion of the picnic. That’s Manhattan in the background.

My one regret? I didn’t get in the human hamster wheel. In hindsight, though, it probably would have been a bad idea to combine sangria, 90-degree weather, my hair-trigger motion sickness, and this….

After the picnic, we had dinner and drinks with a huge group of friends before hitting the streets of Astoria for the St. Abate street fair. It consisted of your usual street fair food (fried dough covered in powdered sugar) plus bonuses like meat spinning centrifuge-style (photo by Dora N.)….

…carnival games with “unique” prizes (photo by Brenda L.)…

…and, of course, San Antonio Abate himself, who by the end of the night, is covered in dollar bills. (Photo by Dora N.)

Chowing Down on Shabu Shabu in Flushing, Queens

Q-U-E-E-N-S: The most diverse county in the U.S. of A, and I love it dearly.

Last night, Lesley, Dora and I were treated to a tour of Flushing, Queens, by Dora’s BF Gene, who was also kind enough to drive us there — it’s always a  treat to skip the muggy mass transit or overpriced cab fare and go cruising with your amigos on a mini road trip.

In the brief minutes of drive time between Astoria and Flushing, you leave Greeklandia, pass through the Spanish-speaking communities de East Elmhurst and end up in the sensory overload of the Far East. (You know you’re there when the blocks start looking a lot more like Beijing than the Big Apple.)

Let's cram as many signs as we can onto one small street, shall we?

Gene had promised us a night of delicious Chinese hot pot — or as it’s also known by it’s Japanese name, shabu shabu (I love the way that sounds so that’s what I keep calling it). We went to Shanghai Tang, where for $22.50 per person, you’re allowed to pick out a big ole bunch of meat, veggies and seafood for your hot pot. It’s all brought out raw to your table. Then, you cook it in the pot, which is filled with two boiling broths — mild and spicy. Once it’s reached perfection, you dip it in a sauce you’ve mixed yourself, from the “sauce bar.”

They give you little baskets to fish you're food out with, in case you're chopstick-incompetent like me. Oh and the beer is included in the fixed price.

While I was a little alarmed to cook my own seafood (I always fear I’ll under or overcook it), by the end of the night, I was courageously throwing camarones into the spicy broth. I even boiled several blue crabs, who had been sliced in half so they could fit in the hot pot. Wild.

My favorite items were the golden mushrooms, lotus flowers, sliced beef and of course, the shrimp.

The white broth to the left was mild, the brown broth was spicy. I didn't mess with the white broth. I'm holding half a boiled crab here, and wondering how to eat it daintily.

After our robust meal, we stopped in a bubble tea cafe before heading home. Lesley and I had the “passion fruit matcha agar,” which is basically a passion fruit juice with small bits of Jell-o floating in it. I miss passion fruit from Mexico — it really is an underutilized fruit, imho.

Chinese food is often about texture, and the little gelatin "agar" bits definitely add some "mouth feel" to an otherwise simple juice. Gene's "coffee frosty" in the background was also a big hit.

Gene ordered a snack known as “tea eggs” for all of us and while they aren’t the most photogenic food, they’re packed with flavor. After being hard boiled, the egg is marinated in black tea and soy sauce. The result is the egg whites take on a more meaty, salty flavor.

While they looked like they might have been birthed by some oil-slicked Gulf pelican, these are simply chicken embryos.

Texas Shrimper Speaks the Truth to BP CEO

“As BP CEO Tony Hayward began his opening statement before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce today, a woman with what appeared to be oil smeared on her hands and face disrupted the hearing, yelling, in part, “you need to be charged with a crime…..”

The protester was the same woman arrested at a Senate hearing last week – Diane Wilson, a Texas shrimper and activist and co-founder of Codepink for Peace.”

Go Diane Wilson!  Watch the video at CBSNEWS.com.

I’ve been following Wilson’s awesome activism for years now. She’s never been afraid to say what the rest of us are too lazy or corrupt to say. If you’d like to read more about her, she wrote an excellent essay on Grist.com: The BP oil gusher is just the latest in a long line of assaults on the Gulf of Mexico.

As she notes:

“The bottom line is that the Gulf of Mexico dies a little every day from the tens of thousands of chemical plants, oil refineries, and oil and gas rigs that pockmark the Gulf and its coastlines. It’s a death of ten thousand cuts, and many of these offenses don’t get reported at all. We, the public, really have no way of knowing. The companies and the agencies certainly aren’t going to tell us. They’ve proved that time and time again. The truth of the matter only becomes clear when something monstrous like the BP oil spill comes along and wakes us up to the nightmare.”

Not only would the threat of prison perhaps scare these corporate executives into giving a shit about the planet they plunder, it would also be cathartic for women like Wilson and me. Finally, these money driven dirtbags would experience a tiny portion of the hell we’ve put Mother Nature through.

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I’ve Joined TSAA — Tzatziki and Souvlaki Addicts Anonymous

Here in Astoria, I’m surrounded by Greeks. This is mostly a good thing, although I’m developing some new addictions.

On a good day, I eat this Greek salad, from our local Cypriot fast food joint around the corner from our house. $6 gets you lettuce, tomatoes, feta olives, feta cheese, cucumbers, dolmades, onions, anchovies and freshly toasted pita bread.

Greek salad

Fast food can be healthy and good.

On a bad day, I eat this. Ahhhhhhhhh…. Spread cold, tangy tzatziki over a freshly baked pita bread, add a chunk of grilled chicken souvlaki, and a few bits of Greek side salad, and you have yourself a Greek-style taco, and it’s the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten. If you want to be really bad, add some rice and a squeeze of lemon, too. And maybe a side of lemon potatoes. And a Greek frappe or some retsina. And finish with baklava.

Chicken souvlaki

Greek salads are good, but you're better. Damnit.

This Is Your Country, America

I don’t know how or why Boston.com has become the go-to site for seeing the horrific, eye-opening, must-be-seen-or-in-my-opinion-you’re-not-American (as opposed to, say, the Times-Picayune) photo galleries of our national shame, but regardless, I’m grateful that they’re being viewed around the world.

I just hope the photos are reaching the right people, those who have turned a blind eye, who hope this story will just go away, who drive gas guzzlers without a shred of guilt, who make fun of people who drive hybrids, who think we need to keep up our aggressive oil exploration efforts (I’m looking at you, psycho Sarah Palin) in place of aggressive alternative fuel innovation.

If you see these photos, and have no reaction, then you have no soul. I continue to feel so outraged I can barely articulate it. This is my country, and I am ashamed. We can’t continue living like we do. We can’t keep doing this to our only home.