Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Shutdown

It's September 30th, 2013 and I'm sitting on the couch watching the news with my family. There's a clock in the top right of the screen counting down to midnight like it's December 31st, 1999 all over again. The news cut to a live feed of the Capitol building like there were going to be fireworks, or an explosion, or something crazy....but nothing happened. Everything seemed normal.

I woke up the next morning like I do every morning, with high hopes of exercising before work only to hit my snooze button three too many times before lazily rolling out of bed, grabbing a quick shower and heading to work. I'm usually listening to Paul & Young Ron in the morning, although I'm not sure why since all they talk about recently is Breaking Bad and I've only watched an episode or two...maybe it's the illusion that I'm having an actual conversation with people, or maybe it's just the illusion of having actual people around me during my commute rather than being alone. But I digress, since there was the commotion on the news last night, I decided to google what FM channel NPR was (at a red light, of course). I don't view myself as the typical "NPR kind of guy," but I needed to get some actual news in my life. It was official, it was the first day of open enrollment for Obamacare. This was a historic day, but I didn't realize how historic until the next line. "Almost the entire government is shutdown," the radio said, "all National Parks, Museums, and other departments are completely shutdown." I was surprised, but I wasn't aghast. I just kinda shrugged it off, took in as much information as I could before I got to work, and went about my usual day. I sat in my cubicle, listened to my co-worker's silly banter while I did my work, ate my bagged lunch, and then I went home. I listened to more NPR on the way back.

There aren't too many things the government can do to really affect my attitude or feelings on a personal level, but after I got home and reflected on what had actually been going on with my family, I became truly and deeply saddened.

When I first began writing this blog, I was headed West to start my first job. I took an incredible road trip across our wonderful country with my best friend, and my love for the United States of America began to blossom. One of our first stops was St. Louis and the Gateway Arch. I didn't know anything about the Gateway Arch before then, but it turned out to be the most meaningful day of the entire road trip for me. As a Park Ranger explained, historically the Gateway Arch symbolized the westward expansion of the United States, and as I listened and looked West from the top of that arch, I had a feeling hope and excitement. I felt like a pioneer. My journey was just beginning and I couldn't wait to get started.

My job at Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah began not one week later. I had one of the most memorable times of my life. I met some of the most incredible people and I learned something from each and every one of them. My supervisor, a long tenured archaeologist at the park was a tough person, but she taught me how to have a strong work ethic and showed me how hard archaeology actually was. The other department leaders and staff were wonderful. I was surprised as to how smart, welcoming, and genuinely caring they all were. They all loved their jobs so much, and they loved Bryce Canyon with all of their hearts. It showed in everything they did. They welcomed loud, obnoxious, ignorant people from around the world into their doors like it was their home...with open arms and smiling faces. No matter what those guests were like when they first came through those park gates, the staff would stop at nothing to make sure that those guests would leave as different people with new perspective and appreciation for this special place they called home...and it worked. I saw kids' eyes float from their iPhones to the night sky with wonder and amazement. I watched people's spirits lift and come pouring through their eyes and smiles as they watched a sunrise over the canyon. Every time I watched someone's life change, mine did too.

I can't tell you how proud I am to say that I wore green and grey. I love our National Park Service with all of my heart, and as I watched closed signs be put up and rangers hang their hats today, my heart shattered into a million pieces. I tried to imagine our country without a National Park Service, without these amazing places or people to interpret them, and I began to cry. It's a country that I cannot, and will not imagine. These parks, from the Gateway Arch to Bryce Canyon and everything in between are absolutely essential to the United States of America. They are our past, present, and future. If you've never been to one of our National Parks before today, consider this shutdown your wake up call. I beg you, don't take these places for granted. Take time to see and appreciate the real United States of America...you won't regret it.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

My Top 10 Favorite NY Sandwiches

It's no secret that NYC has amazing food.  Many people would argue that it's the best food in the world...and I would probably agree with them.  I had the very best sit-down, fork & knife meals I've ever had in my life while living there, but most of the time I was working so long and hard that I didn't have the time [or sometimes the money] to eat out.  Once I realized this, finding the very best sandwiches that NYC had to offer became my mission.

I've always considered myself somewhat of a sandwich connoisseur (bread and cheese are my 2 favorite foods; look out 45 year old version of me).  When I build a sandwich at home, I meticulously place every ingredient so that every bite has a little bit of everything, and I always make sure that the sandwich won't fall apart or do the "squeezeout" (that horrible moment when the soul of a sandwich falls out the backside when you take a bite).

So, through my adventures in NYC, I came across numerous sandwiches that absolutely blew me away, but 10 stood out.  I realize that this list is HIGHLY controversial, but in my experience, these sandwiches were the tastiest and the most consistent.

Okay, enough chit-chat. Here we go...

10. Hill Country Club - Hill Country Chicken

A classic Chick-Fil-A sandwich on steroids: a perfectly grilled, buttered bun with an unbelievably moist fried chicken breast filet topped with two slices of crispy applewood smoked bacon, fresh sliced avocado, and a thick, refreshing slice of vine-ripened tomato that compliments the richness of their homemade buttermilk ranch dressing perfectly

9. Lox Deluxe - Thompkins Square Bagels

The best bagel I've ever had in my life.  This quickly became my go-to neighborhood breakfast place.  These bagels are more like cake than a bagel.  If you can catch one that just came out of the oven, be ready for the ride of your life.  The lox deluxe has everything you could possibly want.  Just pick your favorite cream cheese or tofu spread (i'd highly recommend their veggie tofu), and they'll take care of the rest.  After a few minutes, you'll be presented with a warm, fresh bagel with a heaping pile of spread, fresh lox, tomatoes, red onions and capers. What else could you ask for on a Sunday morning?

8. The Almighty Brisket - JoeDough Sandwich Shop 

The fact that this shop was just a 4 minute walk from my apartment made this place extremely dangerous.  This incredible, "melt-in-your-mouth" brisket sandwich absolutely blew my mind.  Let's start with the bun.  It's the absolute freshest, toastiest brioche bun you've ever felt in your life. Your knees will buckle as soon as you pick it up.  Before you even bite into it, you'll stare at it in amazement as it glistens in the sunlight.  It's light, airy, and oh so tasty.  As you bite into this guy, the tang of the horseradish mayo and the sharp, melty cheddar hits you quickly then your teeth slide through the brisket like a hot knife through butter.  Say goodbye to the days of stringy brisket pieces hanging off each bite.  You could cut this sandwich with a spoon.

7. IL VIP Panini - Sergimmo Salumeria

This thing is like the godfather of italian heroes.  I've never encountered anything like this before in my life.  I really didn't know what to expect when I walked into a ghostly salumeria, but I went for it anyway.  I was in for a surprise.  Homemade italian bread with a healthy pile of amazing prosciutto di parma, three monster slices of fresh mozzarella, some fresh arugula, extra virgin olive oil, and.......wait for it......FIG SPREAD.  The combination of these italian staples makes for an incredible experience.  The slight bitterness of the arugula, the milkiness of the mozzarella, the buttery flavor of the prosciutto, and the heavenly sweetness of the fig spread makes this sandwich the biggest party your mouth has ever seen.

6. Buttermilk Fried Chicken - Melt Shop

I was literally flabbergasted after every bite of this sandwich.  I couldn't believe how this hot, delicious, melty chicken sandwich could even exist....but after every bite, I was reminded that I wasn't dreaming.  These guys have perfected the grilled cheese, so it's no wonder that the sourdough bread and pepperjack cheese were absolutely perfect, but the precision that was used to create the buttermilk fried chicken, creamy red cabbage slaw, and the "special melt sauce," really had me groaning to a near obnoxious level.  My friend literally had to lean over and say "Dude, relax." because we were getting weird looks.  If you're in NY, give this guy a try and see how many bites you can get through without letting out a groan or two.

5. Grey Dog Club - Grey Dog

The best club sandwich I've ever had.  There are three key components here that elevate this sandwich to legendary status: the fresh sliced turkey, homemade honey mustard, and the challah (not pictured).  The melted swiss, bacon, lettuce, and plum tomatoes definitely help, but the warmth of the fresh turkey, perfect tang of the honey mustard, and the crunchy, yet pillowy toasted challah makes this sandwich want me to be a part of the club for an eternity.  The Grey Dog also seems to attract some of the hottest girls in the city during lunch hour, so now you've got two reasons to go.

4. Mediterranean Oven-dried Seasonal Vegetable Panini - Peacefood Cafe

As you can tell from my previous sandwich choices, I am most definitely NOT a vegan, but this panini from Peacefood Cafe made me want to convert.  Homemade focaccia is the bread of choice here, and they do it really well, but the main focal point of this sandwich is definitely what's on the inside and how they managed to make it taste so damn good.  The mix of veggies varies week to week (because they always serve up fresh, organic), but it's usually a combo of zucchini, cauliflower, tomatoes, eggplant, and arugula.  The veggies are oven-dried and roasted to perfection with an amazing seasoning that just makes the natural flavors of these veggies go BOOM!  On the bread they spread some homemade cashew cheese (don't worry, you won't know the difference) and a basil spinach pesto to give this veggie party an extra bump.  Order yourself a hot Apple Ginger Soy to round out the experience.  I promise you won't be disappointed.

3. Hot Roast Beef Hero - Defonte's of Brooklyn

This sandwich was love at first bite.  Before I touch on the dreamy quality of the beef, I'd like to talk about construction here, because this thing is like fort knox.  First, is the fresh, italian sesame loaf that's so thin it's almost like it's not there. It's crunchy and firm on the outside, and airy on the inside.  The crunchy outside is absolutely crucial to how this sandwich becomes so monumental because the next step is the natural jus.  For those of you that don't know, jus is the natural juice that the roast beef creates while it's cooking. Defonte's takes a nice spoon full and pours it right on the bread bottom.  I know, I know.  You're thinking "Why would they do such a thing!!!!??? It's going to be a soggy mess!" Remember that crunchy outside of the bread I told you about? Somehow, Defonte's has figured out a way to keep this hero from becoming soggy at all.  The inside of the bread retains the jus and the outside stays perfectly dry for your delicate little hands. Now, onto the next part: fried eggplant.  Defonte's fries up some fresh eggplant that's been marinating in "who-knows-what" and slaps it on top of the jus, then a few slices of fresh mozzarella (that melt naturally over the hot eggplant and bread, of course), then comes the most amazing roast beef you've ever had in your life.  This roast beef is more like filet mignon.  Upon biting into this hero, everything just magically dissolves into a heavenly flavor in your mouth.  Everyone should have this sandwich at least once before they die.

2. Lobster Roll - Luke's Lobster

The lobster roll is a touchy subject in NYC because there are so many of them, but this one takes the cake for me.  Luke's is a special place.  Old fisherman decor is scattered around the place, and some good, chill indie rock that you've never heard before plays softly from the kitchen.  The menu only has a couple of items: Shrimp Roll, Crab Roll, Lobster Roll.  It's listed at a cool $14.00.  I'm sure you're thinking "14 bucks!? That's just f$%&ing crazy, man. No way any sandwich is worth that much." Well, I'm here to tell you that you're wrong. Dead wrong.

This sandwich is heaven on a roll.  It's a warm, fresh, toasty, buttery bun, filled to the brim with fresh, premium, hand-pulled, gigantic, in-tact chunks of lobster (it's not rare to see a full claw) drizzled with butter and sprinkled with Luke's homemade spices.  To me, this sandwich is the mecca of all lobster rolls, so next time you're in NYC, make sure you get to Luke's!

1. Coconut Tiger Shrimp Bahn Mi - Num Pang

Here we are, at number one.  This sandwich makes me drool every time.  I ate this guy maybe 2-3 times per week because I just couldn't stay away. What's better is that the 20th one of these was just as delicious as the first.  Again, the bread was always spot on.  The fresh baked and lightly toasted mini-baguette was crunchy on the outside, and soft on the inside.  Topped with homemade chili mayo, two slices of cucumber, and pickled carrots, the bread patiently awaits the coconut shrimp that's freshly grilled every time. Once the shrimp finds the bread, some toasted coconut flakes get sprinkled on top along with some fresh sprigs of cilantro.  This is by no means a "traditional" bahn mi, but this thing kept me going back each and every week.  The fresh crunch of the bread, the spice of the mayo, the refreshing effects of the cilantro, cucumber, and pickled carrots, along with the sweet, delicious shrimp, come together to make what I think, is the best sandwich in New York City.

Disclaimer: I did not eat every sandwich in NY, so if you've got one that you think should be on the list, comment below!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Oracle

Imagine yourself broken, battered, tired, and lost. You're trudging, one foot after the other down an old, brittle concrete path littered with cigarette butts, feces, and glass bottles. Each step is agonizing, but you know that you need to keep moving. Everyone says that this path leads to a great fortune and the highest form of success, but you have yet to catch a glimpse of that mythical end. Just as you're about to run out of steam, you reach a fork. Two completely different roads lay before you:

To the West, jagged, sandy rocks jut out from the dirt road that leads to snow-capped mountains along the horizon. The sun shines brightly down that road, but surely these obstacles will be difficult to overcome even in the most pristine weather. To the East, the road is cleanly paved with newly painted marks; the yellow hashes and white lines seem to glow against the dark, warm tarmac. There is a storm looming on the horizon, but surely the quality of the road will make travel through any storm endurable.

You stand there in trepidation and wonderment, when slowly a ghostly figure of an oracle appears from thin air. She's everything you would imagine: a blue glow encompasses her being, and as you gaze into her soft, green eyes, her wisdom is apparent. Just as you begin to try to justify this vision as a result of your obvious exhaustion, she speaks. Her voice is so soft and steady, that it gently rests upon your ears...."Rest easy, my child. The adversity you have faced on your journey has left you weary. For your hard work, I have laid these two rejuvenating paths for you. Both are fruitful, and both are challenging..."

She looks to the East, "The path to the East is smooth and predictable. It will provide you and your family with long-term security and strength. But beware, although this road is dependable, it is long and tedious. You will burden yourself with stress, and achieving personal health and happiness will be no easy task."

She looks to the West, "The path to the West is rocky and uncertain. By traversing this road your body and mind will become strong. But beware, although this road will provide you with exuberance and vitality, supporting your family will prove to be difficult. You will burden yourself with hard work, and finding time for your family will be no easy task."

As she slowly fades away into the sky she whispers, "Whichever way you go, you must give all of yourself, or all is lost. The choice is with you..."

You look East, then West, East again, then West again. Each road tugs at your heart strings so hard that it almost brings you to tears. Which path will you choose?