A Bakedjoint- my new favorite place to hang out in DC

This was another one of my husband’s find. A friend of his recently came to visit from Nepal and he wanted her to experience DC. This restaurant to me brings together everything that I love about DC so much. You walk into- what looks like a large store front on the ground floor with large glass windows and no nonsense outdoor seating.

For 11 am Sunday morning, the line around the counter was stretched across the width of the restaurant. A large space with open counter for bakeries and stacked goods and coffee machined was installed on one side of the enormous space. The other side was fitted with chairs and tables of all shapes and sizes.

Long and thin stand up tables, where you can stand and finish your coffee or meal if you are short on time; large sold wooden communal tables where people of all shapes and sizes were eating together; and small and round chairs and tables scattered behind. There were what looked like indoor stadium type wooden planks where I saw one or two person stretched out with their laptops.

A few steps up and there is a cozy seating available with two large plush sofas and several large comfortable settees organized around each other. We quickly grabbed the large plush white sofa- for a 16 month old this was probably the most comfortable seating space one can find in DC.

Amazing no reservation required- first come first serve basis. We sat there for close to two hours and no one came to push us out. We made space for other large groups as they milled in and out. You have to order at the counter and pick up your food at the counter. I saw several cute and homely wooden trays and round wooden platters being passed around.

My husband picked up our food in several small plates of white with blue border. There was a quiche, a biscuit with egg, savory oatmeal, and yogurt with fruit and Granola. And two large cups of beautifully prepared latte and one glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. The food was fresh, rich, and creamy. We savored every last bite of it. Later, I saw some other dishes that I have noted for the next round of brunch here. A large plate of waffle piled with bacon and fruits and bread with all toppings that you can imagine.

The place itself is minimalist at its best- the décor is light but trendy and cozy. There are no signs for restrooms but letters crawled with a white chalk on the side and the ceilings are exposed. The people were of all types and from all walks of lives- young, old, athletes, workaholics, late night party goers, students, friends, families, coworkers, young and old parents with babies and kids. This was truly DC for me offering space for all kinds- trendy yet simple and practical.

A Baked joint, 440 K St NW, Washington, DC 20001

 

The Pines of Rome- an old neighborhood gem

For my birthday dinner this year (turned 35 by the way), my husband did some research and picked an old Italian restaurant in Bethesda. When I put Bethesda and Italian food together, I thought ‘fancy’, so I put on my dress and high heels. We parked at a garage, and walked for few minutes, two street lights later, we were standing in front of a non-descript wooden door with a white front and ordinary windows. There was a wooden bench parked in the front with lingering smell of smoke.

Few steps up, and we walked into a little cabin with blue tiles on one side and a door on the other. The door opened to a spacious lobby with rooms on both sides and a kitchen hidden behind a small cashier’s desk. A busy looking, spindly man, was hovering over the cash register, he looked up quickly when we arrived and swiftly took us to our table. I quickly hung my coat on one of the walls and followed my husband, instantly feeling out of place in my high heels and dress.

The walls of the restaurant were painted dark maroon red, an odd color or a restaurant ( I thought), the ceiling were white blocks with fans and hanging lights. There was an eclectic assortment of art on the wall, a picture of a grim looking woman, positively ancient, starting down at us, and three plates of different sizes with splashes of color arranged on the other wall. We were seated against one of the walls, two chairs and a small table, the chairs instead of facing each other were slightly open toward the room, as if we were getting ready to watch a show. And that is how it turned out to be, a show.

A large family of ten plus people with children were seated on the back wall, all happily slopping their spaghetti sauce with pieces of pizza. They were unpretentious and loud and having a good family time and not at all apologetic about it. For a moment, I felt like I was in their dining room, a fly on the wall. The table in front of us filled up with what looked like a rag tag mix of elderly, and from the way they commanded their way into the chairs and talked to the waiter, I felt that they had been frequenting this place long before their hair started turning grey.

As I looked around the room, I saw families and friends, tourists and locals, all talking, all eating, and laughing- and it felt like one big family dining room, all of us, strangers, friends, and family together. And even before I tasted the food, I knew that I will be coming back here just for the ambience even if the food proved to be mediocre.

A strong looking burly no nonsense waiter with a small goatee, came to take our orders. The menu like the rest of the décor looked ancient dressed in bright lipstick red with sparkling gold letters. Inside, the listing was two pages long. I scanned through the prices, not too bad. Since this was my birthday and husband was paying, I decided to go all out and ordered a glass of prosecco, that came with a big basket of thick crusty bread and a cold dish of butter. The bread was alright sopped with a dip of the olive oil set on each table.

Melon wrapped with prosciutto was next, three sheets of prosciutto unceremoniously plopped over a large green slice of melon, nothing fancy. The sweetness of the melon was a perfect backdrop to the saltiness of the prosciutto . A plate of hot fried calamari with a large steam bowl of white bean soup was next. Followed by a plate of white Fontina pizza sliced in uneven shapes and sizes. The pizza was delicious. To finish, we shared a cannoli, the crust was thick crunchy yet soft and the white cream was heavy and slightly sweet. It was a perfect ending to a lovely meal. I stared longingly at the plates of spaghetti at the other tables but I those will have to wait until the next time. On the way out we lingered at the lobby looking at framed awards and reviews, there were several, there was one dating back to the 1970s. We knew that we had discovered an old gem and we will be back for more.

Pines of Rome, 4709 Hampden Ln, Bethesda, MD 20814

 

 

A Fog that has lifted

Writing has become a luxury. To sit down and to have a few moments of quiet with a steaming mug of tea and a tired but empty brain is what I strive for these days. Relentless work schedule coupled with a day or two of taking care of our sick child meant hours over weekend and early morning sometimes before five am playing catch up. In all of this frenzy writing took a back seat.

Not just because of lack of time but also because of lack of thoughts. I could not think of anything beyond whatever was required to get through. And the well-worn and all too familiar pattern of thoughts would creep in at night after the everyday was done.

Today after weeks, I feel like the fog has lifted. I have some space and time to go back to my other needs – the goals that I had set for myself- beyond the everyday. So much has happened in the political and personal realm. The unbelievable has come to pass. America will have a first family that is at the extreme of what is considered the norm the usual.

Not having the right to vote myself, I have watched with detachment the bitter political campaign and like the majority was looking forward to putting everything behind in 2016. I was therefore surprised when I woke up to the election results and found myself in anxiety and panic. While I am not so much grieved by the opponent’s loss, I was and still am concerned to put it mildly over the other party’s win.

I am worried about my husband who is a US Citizen and is on the Army on reserve. I am worried about my toddler who is a US Citizen of Asian American heritage. And for the first time since I moved to the US in 2001, I have become acutely aware of my race and my color.

Like the majority, I am holding out hope, I want to stay positive. However, I also believe that while the rhetoric can change- hate slurs, and extreme policies put forth to win election today can become seemingly balanced and polished strategies tomorrow, the waves of division, discrimination, and hatred unleashed is to some extent beyond repair.

While we are going about living our everyday life, we are carefully watching where America is headed toward in the next few years.

 

Coming Back

Coming back to Karachi after a one year gap felt like rediscovering an old friend. I had never thought I would go to Karachi, let alone live there for a year. Due to work life circumstances, I found myself in Karachi in 2014. I would talk to myself every day and prepare myself for the shift. It was one of those decisions where you more or less close your eyes and jump – not knowing whether you would come back intact. One of my most comforting thoughts was if the population of 27 million can survive in Karachi, so can I.

I remember going to the Pakistani embassy in Kuwait, the place was filled with men. Men of all sizes and shapes in salwar kurta and some in western attire. There were very few women and I quickly gravitated toward them. The visa officer after going through some paperwork and websites told me that with my Nepali passport, I would not need a visa for Pakistan.

I remember very little of my first plane ride to Karachi except families clumped together at the boarding gate. Women in colorful salwar kurta and their men with three to four children in tow. There were a few single travelers, women foreign returnees in their tight pants and long tops.

I found myself at the Marriott in Karachi for the duration of my stay. At 4 am in the morning, I checked into the hotel, the hotel lobby was still very lively, a group of qawwali singers, entertaining the few guests that were lingering by. I would for the rest of my time be plagued by thoughts of doom and gloom, hotels being one of the easier targets.

For the first few weeks, I immersed myself in work. Hotel to work, work to hotel, with a break of 40 minutes on the treadmill in the all women gym. Slowly, I made friends at work. A bunch of girls took me out for lunch, my first outing in Karachi. It was a bakery café, cute and cozy, familiar food of nacho and sandwiches, and walls lined with books. I was instantly at home. Another outing, a fancy French restaurant, beautiful menu, and delicious dishes, and an ambience that can quickly make you forget that you are in Karachi.

Slowly, I began to explore Karachi one restaurant at a time. There were malls and there were movie theatres. And there was alliance francaise, the French school, where I took private lessons once a week to brush up on my French. There were pot luck lunches on Saturday where the expats came and you could get wine and whisky and indulge in the company of distinguished appointees at the various embassies. We would talk politics, travel, security, and food.

The food consisted of mostly homemade fare- the Egyptian meat dishes prepared with much thought and fanfare, the simple Italian delicacies, the sizzling Pakistani slightly tempered for the foreign palate, the exotic Russian platter, and the very familiar and homely American baked goodies.

I saw life mostly through my expat bubble. From my screened, AC car windows and cozy hotel rooms, I saw people on the street, families and children trying to piece together a daily meal. Security threats would filter in from time to time, death- kidnapping- suicide attacks, but despite all of this life continued in Karachi.

There is poverty, chaos, pollution, and crumbling yet beautiful infrastructure telling stories of the glorious past. And there are shiny malls, and million dollar houses and cars, and designer wares. Like any other mega metropolitan Karachi carries both ends of life with a quiet dignity.

What I found most endearing about this city were the inhabitants, the karachites, who despite the various stressors of life, know how to enjoy life. The sizzling, spicy and lavish food that makes you come alive; the women who despite the restrictions somehow come out looking like fashonistas; the quick warm and open gestures; the searing heat; the love for life and the good bad and ugly; the deeply entrenched history and stories that people have- are what make Karachi my favorite destination in the world. Every time I go back, it feels like I am home.

 

 

P for Pigeon- evolving in an asana on the mat and in life

My body used to love the pigeon pose. Usually practiced toward the end of yoga classes after repeated downward dogs and upward dogs, lying down on the mat with one leg stretched out and the other folded and tucked under your upper body, was relaxing. This was before I put on 20 Kgs and had a baby. Following the birth of my daughter, this pose has become a challenge, my body has evolved to dislike this pose.

The only explanation that I can come up with is the hips that have changed. This hips that has borne the brunt of my pregnancy and child birth and the weight of my one year old has caused them to revolt. As soon as I stretch myself into the pigeon pose, I feel borderline pain searing outward from my hip. My body speaks to me of memories and patterns locked into those hips- those of pregnancy, childbirth, parenthood and of increased responsibilities. Despite the pain, I still go into the pigeon stretches. “You cannot always do what you like- you have to also explore what makes you uncomfortable” the voice of my yoga teacher finds me on my mat from time to time, pushing and prodding.

There is another aspect of my life that has changed since my daughter which is travel. Getting away from it all for short work trips used to be a very attractive alternative. Hop on the plane, forget yourself in series of movies and people watching binges, arrive at your work destination, meet with colleagues and finish your assigned task. No house to clean, no dinners to cook, no mail to check, and no commute. I become a hotel hermit. I work and I sit and soak up the silence.

But travelling is no longer what it used to be. It comes with healthy dose of guilt and loud pangs of separation from my beautiful delicious chubbiness of a daughter. As I write this, I am on my first work trip post baby and I am missing her desperately- her smell, her tantrums, her curls, and her voice. It feels like I have left a part of me behind and I am no longer a whole person.

Back in the US, when I was thinking about this travel, I was looking forward to some quiet time. I was thinking about all I could get done; focus on my personal projects; my yoga my meditation my business my writing. I saw myself sitting in my hotel room drinking cups and cups of warm green tea and relaxing. Well, I am here, but I am not able to enjoy myself or relax completely. I wonder what she will think of me for leaving her, if she will be able to make sense of what is going on around her and why she is seeing her mommy only on the screen.

I may continue to travel for work and welcome short breaks from home but my expectation of these trips has toned down. I have changed. Motherhood has changed me. While there may be moments of quiet and uninterrupted time for work and catching up on personal projects; the longing for that small part of me that I have left behind will be forever a part of me.

 

Permission to Enjoy Life

I have folded myself into the cozy delicious pages of stories and wisdom. I have surrendered to my desire to read letting go of that nagging voice of reason- ‘too much of good will not last’ or ‘why do you need to spend money on books, you can alway get free books at the library’. Except that the books at the library are never the ones that I want to read. I have forced myself to read books that someone else has judged as a good book, an intellectual book, a must read. Many of these ‘recommended books’ were a disappointment.

After a long time, I decided to indulge myself and ordered 6 six books online. I had instinctively felt drawn to these titles and for once without questioning myself I jumped in and waited in sweet anticipation. The books arrived one by one in neat brown packages. For a week, each day I came home from work, a package would greet me, adding a spark to the humdrum that is life.

The titles and cover pages with splashes of colors promising an adventure. One by one I devoured them all. At water’s edge by Sara Gruen; Life from Scratch by Sasha Martin; Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George; The magic of ordinary days by Ann Howard Creek; Emptiness dancing by Adhyashanti; Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard; and finally The art of hearing heartbeats by Jan-Schendle.

As life ebbs and flows around me, books remain a ready source of escape, encouragement, inspiration, and a dear companion. It is sometimes an art and an effort just to let go and indulge in something you love without the baggage of guilt. I read on the train instead of working on my laptop. I read on my yoga mat instead of practicing my asanas. I read on my bed as my daughter lay next to me playing with her blanket trying to fall asleep. I broke out into laughters and tears regardless of who was watching me. It felt like the forbidden pleasure that comes from digging deeper and deeper into bags of chocolates and heaps and heaps of pasta.

Something shifted within me recently. I realized that I was waiting to enjoy myself; waiting for things to fall into place before I gave myself the permission to enjoy life.  This is no news flash, I have always known this and observed this as a pattern in myself and others but  this knowledge has never transplanted itself into my heart, mind, and gut like it has now. What brought about this change? Was it the daily dose of asanas and meditation or that one day of perfect road trip or the sudden realization that I am turning 35 this year?

There has  and always will be ladders to climb, one more chore to finish, decisions to make, improve oneself…..and in all of this I have to make time and space of to indulge in what I love- books, vacations, my beautiful daughter, my family and friends, writing,  and elaborate teas and lavish dinners.

The Ginger Bread Man

My throat is achy and scratchy today; it feels like a bug has found a home inside my throat, squirming every few minutes and prompting me to clear my throat and my thoughts. After a 530 am call this morning, my eyes are groggy and my mouth is dry. I am craving a cup of coffee but there was not enough time to grab one in between the two trains.

The sunlight is streaming in from the wide windows of the train. The hazy, dusty, and yellow sunlight- the kind that makes you think of golden vacation days where the day is stretched out bright and shiny ahead of you. The tall skinny trees are lined up against the train tracks neatly in a row. My mouth is parched and I gently touch the tip of my lip with my moist tongue.

I left my daughter with my mother this morning. She was awake at 6 am, still half asleep, in her baby blue pajamas, and her little white jacket with leaves splashed all over them. When I put her on my mother’s lap, she made noises that sounded like a mouthful of scolding ‘how dare you let me go’, her eyes wide open and alert. She is going to be a bossy baby one day.

The story of the “ginger bread man” walked back into our lives this weekend. Decades ago, my mother bought the ginger bread man book for my sister while shopping for books for the school year. That year we got to buy one extra book each that was not part of our curriculum, a rate treat given how tight our finances were those days. My sister chose a large hard cover lime green version of the “Ginger Bread Man” and I chose “The sleeping beauty” a small dainty book clad in pink.

Years later, standing at the book store in college, contemplating a gift for a two year old, whom I was going to meet for the first time, I was reacquainted with the Ginger Bread man again. I quickly purchased the book, wrote a small note, and packed it for my trip to Washington DC. The year was 2003, and the little girl is now 16 years old and is getting ready to go to high school.

On Sunday, my daughter received a copy of the “The ginger bread man” – the same one that I had gifted to the little girl who is now in high school. Under my 2003 note, there is a fresh set of note that says “To Avni baby, I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did”- the dates are now 2016. My daughter swiped her tiny palms on the writing, and the black ink smudged across the page, as if on cue recognizing the importance of this moment, she was determined to leave her tiny marks on the page. Who knows where the book will go next.