Dinner with a Passport

I had the opportunity to attend the two-year anniversary of Dinner with a Passport this weekend. Dinner with a Passport is a foodie group started by Sonia Catalina Viteria, who is originally from Ecuador but now lives in Atlanta. Sonia had friends from all over the world who loved to cook and eat, so she started coordinating a once a month event doing just that. About ten people meet at someone’s home and a different country is picked each month. The hostess prepares dishes from participating countries while the rest of the members help cook and bring drinks.

After two years, the group has 194 members, so this particular event enjoyed the diversity accumulated over time. Every person was asked to bring a dish or drink from their representative country. The result was an international buffet that matched no other! There were original, home-cooked dishes from Greece, Poland, Russia, Peru, India, Ecuador, USA, Mexico, Italy, Japan, Spain and many more!

Scroll through the pictures and see if you can identify some of these dishes…

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La Fete Internationale

This weekend, I attended the annually held Dogwood Festival in Atlanta, GA. It’s the time of the year when all the dogwood trees are in full bloom, the spring season is kicking in and people want to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather. The festival is held at Piedmont Park, Atlanta’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park, located in midtown Atlanta. The entire park is covered with booths, bands and festivities. Artists from all over the U.S. come to display and sell their artwork, ranging from photos, paintings, woodwork, metal, jewelry, etc.

The opening night of the Dogwood Festival was a special event called, La Fete. For $35, you got private access to wine and food tasting pavilion, including entertainment and silent auction. Despite the tornado warnings, I attending the event on Friday night and really enjoyed it.

There were four broad regions of wine, with a hundred bottles to taste from! Food was sponsored by local restaurants and included Indian, Moroccan, Spanish, Lebanese, Mexican, American and many others. I tried everything! The most memorable was the chocolate BBQ sauce prepared by 3 Brothers Catering. The dessert of rolled nuts and chocolate in phyllo by Imperial Fez was also unique. Desi Spice is a new Indian restaurant and was serving juicy and tender tandoori chicken. Apres Diem European bistro served stylish chicken liver pâté.

Also met some interesting people, made friends and checked out the silent auction. Overall, it was a good event, much better than it was last year where they ran out of food before I got there and there was no entertainment.

This was a great international food and wine festival for Atlanta. I hope there are more of these throughout the year.

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A taste of Italy a casa mia

The Italian language club, Ciancia met at my place last night. I have to say it was one of my most memorable evenings. Not sure if it was because of the wine, the food, or the conversations, or a combination of all of the above.

I prepared some wine and cheese platters, antipasto, penne arrabiata and fettuccini with white truffles. A good friend had gifted me a jar of fresh white truffles for my birthday, which I decided to use on this special occasion. I made a simple sauce of butter, cream, salt and pepper. Then I tossed it with the fettuccini and grated parmesan. Finally, I shaved the truffles on top and then gently tossed the pasta before serving.

People from all walks of life gathered in interest of a mutual passion for Italian food and language. The linguistic skills ranged from zero to native, so you could join in a conversation of your aptitude. Each person was required to bring a bottle of Italian wine, a dish or pay $10. We had an upside down moussaka, penne with meat sauce, salads and endless bottles of red and white wines.  

The grand finale was my home made Gelato in three flavors – chocolate, mango and maple-walnut. I could not find a recipe for mango Gelato anywhere, so came up with my own. Needless to say, it was over before you knew it!

The crowd was very diverse and eclectic. We talked about everything from food, travel, music, living abroad, volunteering, to spiritually and business. I feel like I made some really good friends who share many mutual interests.

We wrapped up the evening at midnight, by when my feet were desperately asking for some rest. I went to bed with the lingering sweet taste of truffles in my mouth.

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Mango Gelato Recipe

Make the plain base and refrigerate overnight

Peel 2 ripe large mangos, take all the pulp out into a bowl. Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, add all the mango pulp and 1 cup of the plain base in a blender. Blend until the mango is completely pureed and no chunks are remaining. Whisk into the rest of the plain base. Churn in ice cream machine for 30 minutes. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Inspiring global humanitarians to travel

As mentioned in my earlier post about the Global Health & Humanitarin Summit, I presented a session on “Volunteering Abroad – from a writer’s perspective” at the summit. My 20 minutes session focused on trends in volunteer vacationing, my personal experiences from my volunteer trips to Morocco and Russia and a perspective on some things I learned.

Watch the video What I’ve learned from volunteering abroad

I also tried to include some resources and Q&A that people can take back.

The presentation was very well accepted and the audience was very engaged with my stories and pictures. They asked questions and wanted to know how to sign up for their next trip. I had several people come up to me after the event and tell me that I inpsired them to volunteer abroad.

Here are some comments I received by email…

“Thanks you for your EXCELLENT presentation.  It was inspirational and filled with practical tips as well.  Hope to see you next year or on one of our vacations!” – Susanne

“Thanks for your presentation, Sucheta. Your talk was very inspiring.” – Tom

“The Summit was amazing – and so glad that you were a part of it.  Your presentation was very insightful, thought-provoking and left me inspired to check out this opportunity for myself.  LOVE the Go Eat Give Movement!!” – Mitzi

 

Patch unites global humanitarians in Atlanta

This weekend, I attended the Global Health & Humanitarian Summit at Emory University in Atlanta. It was three days of speakers, networking, exhibits and activities. The organizers want to make it into a movement, similar to the Global Economic Summit and it was a great first event. There were hundreds of people from all over the world in attendance.

Speakers included nonprofit organizations, individual humanitarians from different field’s doctors and Emory University students.  There were simultaneous sessions going on throughout the day, so one could move around to specific areas of interest. Rollin McCraty spoke about Heartmath and the Global Coherence Project, which I am a member of already. Andrew Chung, a cardiologist taught us about fat and heart disease. Student groups talked on human rights conditions in North Korea and the Emory China Care group shared their events and activities. I also heard Celeste Koshida educate us about the Women’s Federation for World Peace. A renowned artist from Athens, Georgia, Stan Mullins has built sculptures in Rwanda and Australia. He is commissioned for the Respect project. I also enjoyed Ed Wolkis photographic display of Tibet when he was touring with doctors.

I presented a session on Volunteering Abroad – from a writer’s perspective, where I shared about my volunteer trips to Morocco and Russia.

The highlight of the event was the closing speech by the real Patch Adams (who was played by Robin Williams in the movie about his life). Patch has a larger than life personality and is engaged in many humanitarian efforts. Contrary to his clown act, he is actually very intellectual and well read. He has a deep understanding of spirituality, life and love. Patch shared his personal story of being beaten up as a kid, having his father die in the World War and trying to commit suicide three times as a teenager. After his third attempt, he decided that he would never be unhappy again. He started practicing reaching out to people by riding on the elevators, calling wrong numbers and showing up at events dressed as a clown. He said he has stopped thousands of violent acts by just appearing in his funny distracting outfit.

Patch pays his doctors less than $300/ month but they love working for him. He promotes communal living where expenses are much lower, people support each other and you always have friends. He also gave us some tips and pieces of advice to follow as humanitarians, such as take care of ourselves, not to be led down by disappointments, our job would never be over but we must take time out for ourselves, etc. He showed videos of himself engaging children in a Russian orphanage and in Peru, as part of his humanitarian clown trips. It reminded me of my time in Russia when I was trying really hard to play with this little girl who just wanted to be by herself. She was an adorable four-year old but never smiled or interacted with anyone.

As expected Patch was hilarious during the two-hours that he was on stage! He was dressed as a clown and performed his antics to make the audience (young and old) laugh to their heart’s content. Walking out, I felt invigorated, inspired and determined to make a difference in this world.

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Celebrity dining in New York City

Visiting New York City has never been the same experience twice. This past December, I went for the filming of The Marriage Ref. While a full day was occupied at NBC studios, I had an agenda for the rest of my time there. As a die-hard foodie, I researched all the celebrity owned restaurants in the city and narrowed down to a few.

The first place I called, Rao’s did not even take my call! Their automated answering system said that they were fully booked and to call back in 2012. After being turned down by Rao’s, I decided to give Mario Batali and Bobby Flay a chance to feed me. Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill was very obliging in giving reservations only a day in advance.

My husband and I arrived at the (address) restaurant at 8pm and were seated only after 5 minutes. The place was bustling with locals and regulars. It had a nice vibrant atmosphere with an open hall, two-story ceilings, dim lights and the right level of noise. There were black and white blown up pictures of Hollywood actresses including, Bobby’s wife. Our check for two people was about $100.

The meal was one to remember. The tuna nachos made with sushi grade ahi-tune melted in my mouth. For my entrée I tried the cornmeal crusted chile relleno, a vegetarian dish. It was a whole chile filled with roasted eggplant and manchego cheese drizzled with a peppery balsamic vinegar sauce that made it look like artwork! The toasted coconut layer cake had the most perfect combination of moist cake, toasted coconut flakes and coconut cream.             

The following day I felt like I died and went to Italian heaven! Only I was at Eataly, a 50,000 Sq. Ft. Italian gourmet market by Mario Batali located at Fifth Avenue. This place had everything I ever wanted in life and I had no reason to leave. From made-to-order Paninis, Gelatos prepared with milk from local dairies, imported fine Italian wines, Illy coffee bar, to a wide selection of fresh produce (pasta, seafood, veggies, cheese, etc.) to take home.  There was even a wine bar and a sit down informal Italian restaurant where one could gather with friends after work to worship food. It was reasonably priced and so not uptight that you will forget you are in New York City. I didn’t make reservations, but sampled a number of items including the fungi Panini, cappuccino, cakes and gelato. Finally, my husband had to drag me out of there…


GO Airlink NYC

Bollywood in Persia

I celebrated a dear friend’s birthday this past weekend at a Persian restaurant called Fanoos located in Sandy Springs, a suburb of Atlanta. I have been to this place a few times before and over time, have come to know its owner Jalal.

Jalal moved from Northern Iran to the US over 30 years ago. He took over Persian Tea House couple of years ago. He renamed the place, added a bar but kept the menu and started offering a scrumptious lunch buffet. The restaurant is a typical family arrangement with an open hall and a water fountain in the centre. There are several booths with Persian carpets and cushions, where large families of 10-15 people can sit comfortably on the floor. In the corner, there is a glass booth with a tandoor (round clay oven) where the chef makes fresh bread as soon as you order.

Our group of friends started with a round of pomegranate martinis to celebrate the occasion. These were very different than what I have had at other bars before. Instead of the typical sweetness in the cocktail, there was a spicy flavor (from anise or cinnamon) but it was delicious and smooth!

Baskets of fresh bread was served with a small plate of starters (feta cheese, mint leaves, walnuts olives) even before we had our menus. We ordered some appetizers to share – Must O’ Kheiar, Must O’ Mousir,  Salad Shirazi, Dolmeh, Kashke Bademjon, Hummus, and Must O’ Kheia. If you have tried Lebanese or Turkish food before, some of these may sounds familiar.

For main course, I usually stick to one of their Polo’s, as that’s something I can’t find elsewhere. The Shirin Polo (sweet rice mixed with barberries, orange peels, sliced almonds, and pistachios) is my favorite. I ask them to pair it with Salmon, which is always grilled to perfection. When I am not in mood for sweet, I order the Zereshik  Polo (Rice mixed with barberry and saffron). My friends who ordered the lamb kebabs seemed to have loved it as well.

After dinner, we helped ourselves to the dance floor. Usually, there are belly dancers after 8pm on weekend. But since we were there on a Sunday, we asked Jalal to play some Bollywood music for us. Even the non-Indian patrons joined in for some Bhangra moves.




Interview with Howard’s

I am now writing for the Smyrna Patch, a hyper-local online magazine. My first assignment was to interview Bobby Martin, owner of Howard’s restaurant in Smyrna about the filming that took place at his restaurant for the movie “A Joyful Noise“. Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton were here in our neighborhood filming the movie!

You can read the article by visiting the Smyrna Patch page.


Consulting to Every Woman Works

Some Background – I am currently volunteering with an organization called Community Consulting Teams (CCT), based in Atlanta. Each year, local non profits apply to CCT asking for pro bono consultants to help them with short term projects. My client this year is Every Woman Works (EWW), a non profit learning center based in Roswell, GA.

Today, I went to visit the EWW office and meet their staff members. What an energetic group of women they were! Miss Tillie, who comes from a corporate training background, started this organization to help destitute women (such as those who are homeless, have been abused or are coming out of prison) to help them get back in the workforce. She has created a wonderful 4-weeks long program where the women get to learn about everything from customer service, work ethics, corporate etiquettes, to self empowerment and most of all, having hope.

Like a lot of small non profits that are struggling right now, EWW also has its own challenges. They have a very small budget, but high aspirations of helping others. Their staff is limited. They are crammed into a tiny facility. It sure doesn’t help when you have one bathroom and 20 female students!

My team through CCT is working on creating much deserved brand awareness for EWW which will allow them to have a further reach in the community. They are doing some wonderful work here, changing people’s lives, but very few people know about it. We will create a marketing plan focusing on their donors, sponsors, partners, and media. My hope is they will be able to use this to secure more funding, get tie ups with corporate sponsor, expand their physical location and be able to serve more needy women.

Graduation is tomorrow. Most women are found a job by the time they graduate, so that they can start providing for their families and take care of themselves.

Very excited to be working on this project!