Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"The Latin Paradox" or "Why Are There No Ethnic Bums"

I may be treading on some controversial material here, but what the hell, it interests me.

While in Charleston, two of my friends went into a convenience store. One was Chinese and the other was a white guy. The man behind the counter was from Africa, most likely Somalia. My white friend had left his wallet at the house and my Chinese friend had to spot him. While paying for their merchandise, he made a crack to the Somali saying “White people, always looking to get something for free.” I thought it was humorous, but the Somali found it absolutely hysterical.

I didn’t really understand why he found it so funny until today. I was standing outside of a taco truck waiting for my dinner to be prepared. A black man approached me and the Mexican gentlemen standing next to me asking for money or cigarettes. We told him that we couldn’t help him and he eventually walked off. Once he left the Mexican turned to me and asked me a question in Spanish. When he figured out I didn’t understand he spoke in perfect English. We had a pretty interesting conversation. The Mexican was trying to understand why the only panhandlers he came across were either African American or Caucasian. He had never run across a Mexican or Hispanic panhandler, or one from Asia, the Middle East, or Africa. He was a little irritated that Americans tended to look down upon Mexicans and Hispanics when they tended to be hard working and (mostly) law abiding people.

The question has been churning around in my head for a few hours now. I’ve read some interesting articles on the internet regarding what is known as the “Latino Paradox.” Studies in major cities like New York and LA show that despite having a low socio-economic position (similar to that of African Americans) the distribution of homeless Latinos is much smaller than their percentage of the total population. Many attribute this to the importance of family and community in Latino cultures. If a Latino gets down on his luck there is a family member somewhere that feels an obligation to help his relative out. I also think the importance of family influences this in other ways. I never really thought about it, but Americans work hard to earn money to survive, buy more things, and develop social status often at the expense of family. Mexican immigrants tend to work hard because they value their families and want to provide for them, but they don’t seem to lose sight of being part of the family as well.

There are probably other culture differences that attribute this as well. If you have any thoughts as to why this Latin Paradox exists, please feel free to post them.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Eating Out: City House, Knockout Wings, and The Tale of Two Taco Trucks.

City House: This restaurant is located in the Germantown neighborhood and is the brainchild of Chef Tandy Wilson. The restaurant declares itself as an authentic Italian restaurant that prides itself in using in-season locally grown produce and meats. Although the emphasis is Italian, the restaurant also offers it’s take on traditional southern foods. I really liked the décor of the restaurant. It was simple yet classy, without being stuffy or overly elegant. I was a little irritated that our table was not ready despite a reservation and the water is served with no ice. I cooled out a little once I got my Sazerac, the official cocktail of New Orleans. This drink is made of rye whiskey, bitters, sugar, and herbsaint. I was really impressed by the menu and chose to go with the Tennesse pork plate. This dish had a sampling of house cured pulled pork and house made sausage. It was served with aruglula that was cooked in a similar fashion to greens. It was very good-a little salty-but this should be expected when using house cured pork products. My cocktail and entrée ran roughly $30, which I thought was a bargin. I was also impressed that 20 year old Rip Van Winkle, the top ranked bourbon in the world, was offered on the desert menu. I’d definitely eat here again.

Knockout Wings: I’ve been trying to dine my way across two of the “ethnic cooridors” on my side of town. Jefferson Street is one of them. This is a predominately African American part of town that is famous for being the home of two traditionally African American universities: Fisk University and the Tennessee State University. Back in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s Jefferson Street was one of the most well known black neighborhoods in the southeast, famous for it’s jazz, blues, and R&B scenes. Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, and Little Richard all played there. Eventually an interstate cut the neighborhood in half, and desegregation gave black Nashvillians the opportunity to shop in other areas of town. Knockout wings is located in the heart of this neighborhood. I ordered a dozen wings, half hot, half country. The first thing I noticed is that country means plain. The second thing I noticed was that the order only included drummies, there were no flats. The hot wings had decent flavor but didn’t blow me away and the famous biscuits were a little too sweet for my taste. Overall I found the restaurant to be a little overrated.

Charlotte Pike Taco Trucks: Charlotte Pike is one of the more diverse roads in Nashville. There are Hispanic, Korean, Indian, Vietnamese, and other types of cuisine offered on this street. I decided to start checking up some of the taco trucks located on this street. I’m not sure what the places true names are but I think the first one is called Tex-Mex and is located in about the 5800 block near the cluster of Vietnamese restaurants. I tried the steak (asada) and beef brisket bbq (barbacoa). They were 99 cents each and served with onions, cilantro, and a sauce. They were excellent, but upstaged by the truck in the 6300 block near the Sonic. This truck had a decent steak taco and a phenomenal carnita (roasted pork) taco. On top of that, the tacos were garnished with radishes and pickled carrots and they were only $1 each. I had a conversation with an acquaintance from Acapulco and he convinced me to go back and try some of the more exotic meats. In the near future expect reports on my experiences with tripe, beef cheek, tongue, and other strange meats!

Balcony Garden

Two weeks ago I decided to plant a balcony container garden. All of my plants were bought at Gardens of Babylon in the Nashville Farmers Market. I strongly recommend this business. They have a great selection and I found the employees to be extremely knowledgeable and friendly.

I already had two flower boxes that were going unused, so I decided to fill these with herbs. Each box contains two plants. One contains cilantro and curled parsley. The other contains basil and Greek oregano. I’ve also got a couple of potted plants. I’ve got two 10” pots, one containing a rosemary plant and the other thyme.

I also have a couple of tomato plants. I chose two varieties: Bush Champions and Juliets. The Bush Champion was recommended for container gardens because the plants are only 24” tall, but can produce full size tomatoes. What I didn’t know when I bought the plant is a determinant variety. This means the plant will produce one harvest, and then may not produce another. I would have preferred an indeterminate variety, or a plant that continues to produce all season long, but I really didn’t understand the concept at the time. I’m not sure what the Juliets will end up looking like. It’s often described as being too big to put into salads without slicing, but too small to be a “slicer” tomato. It’s an indeterminate variety so it should produce all season.
All of the plants have been doing very well. I used a little cilantro in some black bean and corn burritos I made the other day. I also combined some of the rosemary with goat cheese to stuff some chicken breasts. The tomatoes are doing very well. I moved them to larger pots, added gravel to improve drainage and staked the Juliets up. After reading a few articles I decided to add some companion plants-plants that have symbiotic relationships with each other. The bush champions now share space with some chives and the Juliets now live with some mint.

Here are some pictures.

I’m still trying to decide what to grow in the two 10” pots the tomatoes used to live in. If you have any suggestions let me know.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Best Parks in Nashville

On Saturday morning I went to the downtown library looking for a travel guide on Charleston. They didn’t have any on hand but I did stumble on a travel guide on Nashville. I had no intention of reading it, but I skimmed it over this morning to see if there were any major attractions I have missed out on. There was a section in the book regarding all of the nicknames this city has had or currently has. The list included: Music City USA, The Athens of the South, The Belt Buckle of The South, The Wall Street of the South (Nashville was a major player in southern banking before the shift to entertainment and healthcare) and The City of Parks.

City of Parks is an accurate description. The Nashville Parks commission states they manage 113 properties encompassing over 10,000 acres. In addition we have eight state parks the Nashville Metro area, numerous dog parks, and an aggressive plan in place to connect every part of Nashville through a series of urban greenways. Here is a list of some of my favorite parks in Nashville.

1. Centennial Park: (West End and Natchez Trace) I live two blocks away from Centennial Park and it is easily my favorite park in town. In my opinion, Centennial Park is the heart of the city. On any given day you can find numerous people taking advantage of what this area has to offer. The Parthenon, a replica of the Greek landmark that remains from the Exhibition, is its cornerstone. It houses the statue of Athena, a museum, and an art gallery. Lake Watuga is probably the second most notable feature and you can often find people fishing, feeding the birds, or relaxing on its banks. The park also boasts acres of green space, gardens, walking/running trails, and many other attractions. The park sponsors most of Nashville's key events including Earth Day, Movies in the Park, The Shakespere Festival, The Italian Festival, The Country Music Marathon, numerous chairity walks, and many other events. The park was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1972. In 2008 Mayor Karl Dean announced a major initiative to restore and preserve the park.

2. Shelby Bottoms: (Shelby and 20th) Shelby Bottoms is amazing because its 810 acres of undeveloped land located in an area where land would probably sell for a hefty price. It has five miles of paved and unpaved trails making it popular amongst runners, bikers, hikers, and birdwatchers. On the weekend, I often ride my bike across the river through Shelby Bottoms, and into the Stones River Greenway. Shelby Bottoms is also located near Shelby Park which is popular because of its playgrounds, baseball field, lake, picnic areas, and boat ramps.

3. “Dragon Park”: (Blakemore and 24th) The actual name of this park is Fannie Mae Dees Park, but it’s better known as “Dragon Park.” When I lived in Hillsboro Village I was only a block away from this park. I’ll admit that there are nicer parks, but I think this one is probably the coolest one if you’re a little kid. The highlight of the park is “The Dragon,” a giant sculpture of a sea serpent covered with mosaic designs. A lesser known fact is that the park is also the home to Tennessee’s first “Boundlessness Playground.” The playground is the brainchild of a local mom who was concerned because there was no play area that was accessible to children with physical and developmental disabilities. Through her hard work and the support of her community “Lily’s Garden” was constructed and named after her daughter.

4. Radnor Lake: (Granny White and Otter Creek Road) Radnor Lake is a state park located in the Oak Hill community. The lake is actually manmade, it was constructed by a railroad company to supply water for it’s steam engines. Eventually developers tried to make the area into suburban tract housing, but the public prevailed and it’s now one of Nashville more popular parks. The area is always packed with walkers, hikers, and birders taking advantage of the several miles of paved and unpaved trails. The area also boasts a large selection of wildlife including birds, otters, and deer.

5. The Warner Parks: (Highway 100) Edwin Warner and Percy Warner parks are located in West Nashville, and when combined is one of the largest parks in the US. Currently the park is at 2,684 acres with negotiations underway to purchase another 324 acres of ancient forest from the HG Hill family. I don’t make it out to this park as much as I would like but it’s very popular. It has several miles of hiking and equestrian trails and hosts the Iroquois Steeplechase.

Honorable Mention: Sevier Park, Beeman Park, Hall Of Fame Park, Hamilton Creek Park