Thursday, October 29, 2009

Iran in America

“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I will meet you there” quoted Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet, theologian, and mystic.

I was shocked by such a peaceful quote coming from such an troubled land. It seems that the only information I hear about Iran via our American news stations, is about all the horrible fighting and injustices going on over there. I was curious to see where this Persian poet, Rumi, found his inspiration and if there is such a field.

But, considering the fact that Iran is about 7,000 miles away and probably not the best place for me to visit right now, I decided to go to Tehrangeles (A portmanteau, combining the words Tehran, the capital of Iran, and Los Angeles). This large neighborhood holds up to 900,000 Iranian immigrants and encompasses the majority of Westwood and Beverly Hills.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is an extremely old country in Western Asia and has a population of over 70 million people. Although the majority of Iranians are Muslim, Iranian Jews are among the most ancient Iranians. For many centuries, the Iranian Jews have been exiled out of Iran after Islam came into power. The largest Diaspora was after the 1979 revolution, where many Iranians found their way to Israel and America. Immigration to the Los Angeles area increased and Little Persia made its place on Westwood Boulevard, soon to be filled with the Persian expatriate community and their cultural shops, restaurants, bookstores and all forms of media including magazines, newspapers, radio and television stations.

Simply crossing the street into Tehrangeles, I felt like I had crossed the border into Iran.

Upon starting my voyage of discovering Iran in America, I needed to first get some history. Walking in the Ketab Bookshop, I was greeted with a “Salam” (the traditional Iranian greeting of peace) and an array of beautiful flowing ink writings that resembled Arabic. Farsi, the native language of Iran, uses the same letters as Arabic but to form a completely different language. Much like how Spanish, French and English all use most of the same letters for their unique languages.

Farzad, the store-owner, took me on a tour of all the books in his shop. “Many of these books have been banned in Iran” he said, as he pointed to a wall filled with collections such as, “Animal Farm,” “Brave New World” and “Lolita”. But on Westwood Blvd, all of the banned books in Iran, are available to read for anyone.

I noticed that on these sun filled streets of Tehrangeles, there was where a dark cloud looming over every Iranian head. For even those who have been in America for decades, there is a slight sense of the judgmental eye of a distant regime, miles across the globe.

But this is America, and freedom of speech is one of its highlights. No one seems shy to criticize the politics in Iran and people can easily poke fun at the so-called “monkey” President Ahmadinejad and other controversies. For here, Muslims and Jews walk along the same street, eat at the same restaurants and bring their children to the same schools.

In the back of the bookstore was an enormous selection of Iranian music, movies and musical instruments, like the oud ( a pear-shaped, stringed instrument that resembles the lute) and the Tonbak (the national drum of Persia). In Iran, their musicians are very popular but also are confronted with strict rules and regulations, which cause some of the biggest Iranian pop stars to record and live in Southern California.

Farzad and I had such a great time talking politics, religion, playing music and learning Farsi, that he personally escorted me to dinner across the street to Shahrzad, the oldest Iranian restaurant in LA. The room was filled with large families eating and celebrating as if it was the last supper and the tables were topped with lavash, complimentary Persian flatbread made fresh in an in-house brick oven. Since most of the Iranians in LA are Jewish, they can drink alcohol, for if they were practicing Muslims, alcohol is prohibited. Haram ( an Arabic word meaning prohibited.)

The lavash is accompanied with a large basket of herbs, butter and onions. This is to warm up the palate for the upcoming meal. The items on the menu were absolutely incomprehensible; barg, koobideh, joojeh, shishleek, soltani, chenjeh, khoresht, and Kashkeh Bademjan. So I ordered one appetizer and one entrée I could not pronounce: Kashkeh Bademjan, a Persian Eggplant Dip and Chenjeh, spiced lamb kabob. One word to describe these two dishes: delicious!

After the heavy meal, we were served warm Iranian tea; a blend of 2 parts Darjeeling, 1 part Earl Grey and a pinch of Orange Pekoe.

I was curious what Iranians do after dinner on a weekday night, so Farzad took me next door to Saffron and Rose, an ice cream shop that was filled with people sitting inside and outside talking, eating and smoking. But this was not just any normal ice cream, this was Iranian Ice Cream; which is now my favorite in the world! In addition to saffron, pistachios, orange blossom and cardamom, its key ingredient is rose water. The most exotic spices, flowers and fruits filled the creamy scoop with a memorable and refreshing taste that was unlike anything I have ever had before. It’s so popular, people from all over the city come to buy it by the carton in Tehrangeles. If you find yourself in Hollywood, stop by Mashti Malones to taste some more delicious Iranian Ice Cream.

It was an eventful day that revolved around a lot of talking and eating. But in the end, I discovered that the quote was more relevant than not and what I have seen in the news about Iran was nothing like what I experienced in Tehrangeles.

“Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.” Maybe that field is America? A land where all cultures can co-habitate together, still keeping their customs, their language and their religions, but leaving behind their judgments. For in America, one never knows what race or religion their next boss, friend or lover could be. And in Tehrangeles, with the California sun setting in the distance, everyone seemed to be eating their Iranian ice cream in peace.
Salam a ti! (Meaning, ‘peace to you’ in Farsi)

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Gypsy Health Tips

These are a few health tips that I want to share with you in this so called “FLU” season. Remember, it’s about prevention…and every day we can do little things that can make a big difference in our health and wellness. Here is what I am doing:

1.    A Friend of a Vegetable is a Friend of Mine
I am choosing a vegan diet this season for a few reasons:
a.    To purify my body from dairy. Dairy builds up flim in my body and I just feel better when I don’t consume that delicious gooey yummy cheese. I notice that I breathe better and sh*t better…and those are two crucial things for me.
b.    BC I do not feel right supporting the treatment of animals in the slaughterhouses in this country. The book, “Skinny Bitch”, really made an impact on me and I say it is a ‘must read’ for anyone.
c.    Saving money. I used to go to town at Whole Foods buying organic meats and cheese from around the world…now I can see that my bill is significantly lower wherever I dine and shop.
d.    And last but certainly not least, when I eat vegetables, fruits and whole grains, I feel better! My body soaks up the nutrients and it shows in my eyes, skin, lips and hips! (a little secret, I have lost 15lbs since I have become vegan…ye ha!)

2.    Okie Blow!!
Besides cutting out dairy (Sorry Pink Berry…it was fun while it lasted!) I am the Netty Pot Queen! Every morning I flush out these beautiful big wind tunnels that keep my body going. BC if not, we can get a lot of toxic buildup in our nostrils that can spread to our inner body and create havoc on our immune system. Plus, it feels so good to breathe freely!

3.    Sea Salt Swishing
Everyday I gargle with warm water and sea salt to rinse out any impurities in my mouth and to cleanse, refresh and release! Its not just for when you have a sore throat….it’s about prevention

4.    A little Exercise Goes a Long Way
Believe me, sometimes there is nothing harder than having to get out of the warm cozy bed on a cold dreary morning and go to the gym. But after that first 10 minutes of cardio…you body starts to feel great. Not only are you starting to sweat out impurities, you are working your heart, balancing your energy, clearing your mind and pumping in some good hormones that make it a great day. Even if it’s a simple 20 minute work out…that is good enough!

5.    Yoga for the Soul
In this world of bad news on every station, it’s hard to keep a smile in a troublesome world. Taking a few minutes out of my day to honor my body does wonders to my mood! Whether it’s a home practice or in a studio, yoga is the union of the body, mind and soul and shifts your vibration to a higher level, relaxes and energizes your body and brings peace to the mind so that a smile can appear more often than fear! Mark Whitwell’s book, “The Heart of Yoga” is all about creating your personal practice in your own space.

6.    Sweat it Out Baby!
If you happen to live in a city with Korean Spa’s, Russian baths, or Moroccan Hamam’s…lucky you! If not, get thee to the steam room at your gym. Oh how wonderful it is to sweat out the stress of the day! My pores open up, my muscles relax and my body melts into the healing heat of the sauna. No wonder people have been basking in sweat lodges for centuries…it heals!

7.    Lave sus Manos!
Yep. This one is easy. Wash your hands a lot and also clean your phone, computer, re-usable water bottle, and remote…germs live everywhere so clean them and go on with your day. Don’t become neurotic about it…just wash and go

8.    Affirmations!
This one is super important to me. When someone says, “Are you sick?” and even though I might be feeling a little under the weather, I always respond by saying, “My body is healing itself”. That is something wonderful to repeat anyway, everyday, something like; “Thank you for my healing, my health, my happiness…”

9.    To Thine Own Self Be True!
Listen to your body. If you feel like sleeping in, sleep. If you feel like drinking something warm, heat it up and sip. If you feel like having a delicious bowl of hearty pasta or grains, mange´! Our bodies are our own best doctors and we need to get back in touch with them. Dr. Oz is a great resource, but we need to be our own healers and honor where we are and listen to what signals we receive so that we can nourish what needs tending to.

10. Beverages of Choice!
There are really only 3 things that I drink: Water, Tea and Red Wine. I gulp filtered water everyday for the obvious reasons and my body thanks me for it. Tea is packed with antioxidants and herbs that aid in digestion and stimulate energy inside and out! And lastly is that good ole’ wine. This Gypsy lady has had her fun with Vodka, her wild nights in Oklahoma with beer and the sophisticated tastings of Scotch, but now I can really only drink one thing with a clear conscious and no hangover: Red wine  For many reasons, like the fact that its packed with resveratrol and healing antioxidants, but also because it is closest to the earth and stars. Bacchus sends me secrets every time I sip in sweet moderation.  One of the best wines I have had lately is an Organic Malbec priced at $12 called, ‘Yellow+Blue’.

These Gypsy Health Tips are some simple things that I have found inspiring to create in my everyday life and I wanted to share them with you. Remember, being a Gypsy is not only living an unconventional way of life, traveling for work and having a creative spirit…its also about survival, instincts and going back to our roots by listening to our bodies and our hearts more than anything else. Stay true to you!

Keeping it in the Caravan!
America’s Gypsy

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Gypsy Balls

Delicious, Tasty, Nutty, Sexy, Fluffy, Colorful Gypsy Balls!
The perfect treat as breakfast, desert or a energy packed snack!!

All you need are a few ingredients, hands that are ready to get messy, an oven and a mouth!
Suggested Ingredients:
(You can interchange any kinds of nuts and dried fruits that you like)
Goji Berries
Cacao nibs
Maca Powder
Almond milk

Pour all ingredients into a bowl and start mashing together.
Put it all in a food processor and mix.
Take out of the processor and start making balls the size of a dollar coin.
Pre heat oven on to 350
Stick the balls in the oven for about 30 minutes or until golden and slightly crispy

Let cool and pop them in your mouth!

health benefits:
Goji berries: have been used for 6,000 years by herbalists in China, Tibet and India to:

* protect the liver
* help eyesight
* improve sexual function and fertility
* strengthen the legs
* boost immune function
* improve circulation
* promote longevity
Cacao Nibs: a powerhouse of cognitive enhancement, mood and bliss-enhancement , antioxidants, flavonoids, catechins and many other brain & body-enhancing elements.

Maca Powder: nutrition-packed root vegetable, also known as “Peruvian ginseng,” that grows in the mountain plateaus of the Peruvian Andes. It is rich in amino acids, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals with many healthful effects, including:

* Increasing energy, stamina and endurance
* Enhancing libido and treating impotence
* Stimulating fertility in both sexes
* Supporting the immune system and adrenal function
* Reducing chronic fatigue
* Regulating and supporting the endocrine system

Agave: A natural sweetener that tastes similar to honey and derived from the plant that is used in making tequila, agave nectar can be used to sweeten both food and drinks.Its an ideal alternative to sugar and offers health benefits from weight loss to wound healing.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Riviera of Texas

America’s Gypsy explores
Tejano Culture in San Antonio, Texas
America’s Gypsy takes audiences on a journey through multi-cultural America, often stepping back in time and creating short escapes within U.S. borders. This time, she explores the Riviera of Texas - San Antonio.

As the strains of a mariachi band played over the airport loudspeaker, my mission became clear: experience margaritas and mariachis in America’s Little Mexico, otherwise known as San Antonio.

The sun was out, the heat was on, the tequila awaited my lips, and the music awaited my hips. Being close to the border of Mexico and even closer to large cities like Austin, Houston, Fort Worth and Dallas, San Antonio is a city where history meets industry.

Famous for historic spots such as The Alamo and Spanish missions that date back to the 1700s, it is also filled with distinct new innovations like the River Walk, the Tower of the Americas (a 750-foot-tall tower with a restaurant on the top), Six Flags Fiesta Texas, and the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo (one of the largest in the country).

Walking down stone steps, I entered the Paseo del Rio, the Spanish translation for the River Walk, where the waters of the San Antonio River spring forth into a Venice-like canal circling dozens of bars, restaurants and hotels for more than 3 miles.

Along the banks of the river, a small Mexican restaurant, Boudros, boasts guacamole made tableside—the only way to eat it, in my opinion. Sitting along the river watching the riverboats pass by, I heard a sensual melody from a single guitar.

A short, handsome, dark-skinned man, adorned in a black velvet suit with red and white lapels and a wide brimmed hat, stood alone stroking the Spanish guitar with his fingers, creating the most delicate and beautiful melody.

With in seconds, two other men joined him and began to harmonize their guitars, singing emotional Spanish lyrics that would make anyone’s heart stir. I sat in bliss sipping my prickly pear margarita (which became even more meaningful when I learned that prickly pear is a cactus from the desert bursting with vitamins and used to help ease hangovers).

But it was at La Villita’s Historic Arts Village, that I was able to experience true Tejano culture. Tejanos are Hispanic Texans, named for their ancestors who fought on the side of Texas independence forces.

Strolling through the dozens of old churches, homes, and jacals (thatched roof huts covered with clay) that have been renovated into local art and imported good shops, I couldn’t help but smile. While America has been independent from Mexico since 1821, its passionate and colorful culture is strong and vibrant thanks to the large Tejano and Latino communities that make up about 60 percent of the city’s entire population.

With the southern sun beating and inspired by the Tejano influences, I purchased a nice green cowboy hat as I went across the street to the famous historical landmark, The Alamo. There, I heard the magical music of three mariachis singing a song of happiness on the corner of the cobblestone streets.

Though the Alamo seemed much smaller than I imagined, its presence brought forth the importance of this historic mission for both Americans and Mexicans. With 189 defenders on the side of Texas, such as folk hero Davy Crockett, Colonel William Travis and Jim Bowie fighting the 13-day battle against Mexico’s Santa Anna’s army of 4,000 ending in the favor of Mexico until they moved up north and met the forces headed by Sam Houston. Today, The Alamo is known as the Shrine of Texas Liberty.

This one building created what is now Texas and it stands still today; 173 years later … filled with curious tourists who might not ever know all that went on in this divided land.

After experiencing tradition at La Villita and The Alamo, I got a great taste of just how well San Antonio blends the old with the new at the Pearl Brewery complex. The space functioned as a brewery from 1883 until 2001, but is now being transformed into a culinary and cultural gathering space centered on the restored brew house, stables and cable cars.

One of the highlights in the Pearl Brewery complex is Melissa Guerra Tienda de Cocina (Things for the Kitchen). Visitors are greeted with a huge sign saying Mi Casa es Su Casa (“My home is your home”), and the interior feels like an authentic Mexican kitchen. Mexican spices fill the racks, dried peppers hang from the ceiling, and hand-painted plates lined the tables. The only thing missing is an abuela (grandmother) making fresh tortillas. (Fortunately, the store also sells tortilla makers!)

This salivating vision of homemade tortillas inspired me to wander over to the Culinary Institute of San Antonio, also located in the Pearl Brewery. Here, several “enthusiast classes” for aspiring chefs and food lovers focus on Latin American cuisine, with two-hour, weekend and boot-camp courses available.

I signed up for the Taste of CIA Cookbook class and spent all day grinding paprika, chopping vegetables and flipping tortillas. By the end of the class, I had prepared an authentic Mexican meal: chicken mole topped with sautéed peppers, mushrooms and onions with hot homemade tortillas.

Though often overshadowed by its neighbors, San Antonio is akin to a well-balanced meal: the sweet memories of history blended into the savory sauce of culture topped with the strong meat of industry and innovation.

The hot sunny days, the crystal green river, the smiling tan faces and unlimited salsa and margaritas add the perfect spice to a journey along the Riviera of Texas. ¡Ole!