Summer 2017: Honolulu

I know it seems as if we go to Honolulu all the time, but all I can say is that we aren’t ever there often enough.

We were the winning bid at a charity auction for a week at a house in Honolulu belonging to Kathy Ireland (note: our kids had no idea who she was) and decided to try out the staying-at-a-house concept over staying at the Halekulani. We cajoled some friends of ours to join us on our trip.

sunrise at Villa Elizabeth

view from Villa Elizabeth

view from Villa Elizabeth

The kids took surfing lessons and hung out at the beach, but we also managed to fit in some semi-educational moments. The Punchbowl (officially known as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific) contains not only a detailed description of the battles in the Pacific but also some of the most stunning views of the city.

National Memorial of the Pacific

view from the Punchbowl

view from the Punchbowl

And you can see why Hanauma Bay was reserved for the Hawaiian royal family. My personal highlight was seeing a sea turtle for the first time. (My inability to see a sea turtle before this trip might have been related to my reluctance to go into the ocean, which is generally cold by my standards, but I doubt it.) 🙂

Hanauma Bay

But Honolulu isn’t Honolulu if we didn’t spend at least a couple of days at our favorite hotel, the Halekulani. The views from the hotel are just as stunning as ever.

view from the Halekulani

All in all, one of our favorite trips to Hawaii. (But don’t we say that every time we go?)

Book review: The Partner Track by Helen Wan

The Partner TrackThe Partner Track by Helen Wan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a loosely autobiographical story of a Chinese-American woman trying to make partner in a prestigious New York law firm and how the deck is stacked against those who aren’t white, male, and privileged. (At least, that’s the book’s premise.)
There are some moments in the book that resonated with me (such as the times when folks confused the Asian female lawyers or the times that the main character is mistaken for a secretary), and those moments are both illuminating and bittersweet. But the book also portrays the main character as without fault in any of the unfolding events. And the final humiliating straw–the emotional crux of the novel–made no sense to me at all.
That being said, the book is well-written and an easy read with moments of poignancy. However, it would have been a more interesting read had there been more nuance and shades of gray. Not every white privileged male is a jerk and not every minority is deserving of advancement. It would have been nice to see more than cardboard cutouts of stereotypes. The book was good, but it could have been so much more than it was.

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Graduation 2017!

We celebrated the graduation of our daughter from Sidwell Friends School last Friday. The day was perfect—sunny but not too hot and with low humidity. Jim’s mom, brother, and (brother’s) girlfriend attended, as did my parents. It was a joyous occasion, with lovely speeches given by Bryan Garman, the Head of School; Margaret Plank, the Clerk of the Board of Trustees (“clerk” = chair in Quakerspeak); and Michael Govan, Class of ’81, who is the head of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
We had a whirlwind weekend of celebration, including a dinner at Peking Gourmet Inn to celebrate with many of those who were instrumental in Jade’s upbringing, and a dinner at the Inn at Little Washington to celebrate both Jade’s graduation and Jim’s mom’s birthday. (The specific number birthday is a state secret.)
Everyone left town on Monday (calloo, callay!). Despite the commentary, it was a wonderful weekend of family and celebration!

class of 2017

Prom 2017

As we move ever more rapidly into the bittersweet final moments of our daughter’s senior year of high school, prom was the highlight of the week.  A group of her friends met up for a pre-prom get together where several parents were on the verge of tears contemplating the fact that their children would soon be off to college.  There was also much laughter, much love, and much incompetence when it came to the pinning of boutonnieres.  🙂
We think Jade looked stunning, but we are admittedly slightly biased in this regard.
Between the pre-party, prom, the official after-party, and the small after after-party, she got about an hour and a half of sleep.  Good practice for those college all-nighters (studying, of course.). Most importantly, she had a grand time!

Dance Ensemble Recital

For three years, our daughter has participated in the Sidwell Friends Upper School dance ensemble.  Dance ensemble was her first ever dance experience.  It has been the place she has found the most serenity and peace during high school.  (Her only regret is that she didn’t start in 9th grade and avoid the trauma of softball.)

This is the last dance recital of her high school career and so I have inexpertly filmed two of her dances from the recital.

Our biggest thanks go to Marie McNair, dance instructor extraordinaire, who provided a haven of support, growth, and encouragement for our daughter!

Book review: Heresy by Sharan Newman

Heresy (Catherine LeVendeur, #8)Heresy by Sharan Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the eighth in the Catherine LeVendeur mystery series. Overall, the series is fabulous. It is fabulous not only because of the depth and accuracy of the historical research but also because the series depicts the lives and conditions of Jews during the Middle Ages. This interesting (and often heartbreaking) perspective is unusual, especially for a mystery series, and fascinating. The author doesn’t presume to apologize for the attitudes she describes (and, indeed, there is no apology needed–facts are facts), nor does she attempt to modernize the characters’ outlook.
This particular mystery is interesting because one of the main characters is Astrolabe, the son of Abelard and Heloise. As someone whose mind is not suited to deep philosophical or theological debate (which I discovered when reading Abelard’s writings for a college course many years ago), I was relieved to learn that neither was Astrolabe’s. 🙂
The mystery itself is not the strongest part of this particular book (historical mysteries often have this issue), but the discussion about the religious factions, Astrolabe (and Heloise’s) places in the world, and the ramifications of the Crusade are knowledgeably described and well-integrated into the story.
The main character, Catherine herself, is a delightfully imperfect person, and the secondary characters–all of whom you have gotten to know throughout the series–continue to grow and deepen.
I highly recommend this series and this book. The series is best read in order.

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Restaurant review: Dolan Uyghur

Uyghur (pronounced wee-gur) cuisine comes from one of the ethnic minorities mostly located in Xinjiang, China.  We have been to a Uyghur restaurant in Beijing many years ago and were thrilled to learn that there was now a Uyghur restaurant in Washington, DC.  Off we went to try it with some friends who had made the discovery (thank you, Joyce and Marty!).

Uyghur food bears some resemblance to Middle Eastern food (not surprising, given some of the common culture and climate) and some resemblance to Chinese food (again, not surprising).

We started out with the Piter Manta, steamed buns containing beef seasoned with onions and spices.  Think of potstickers with Middle Eastern seasoning, and you come close to what these taste like.  They were quite good.

piter manta

We had an additional appetizer, the Samsa, made of seasoned beef and onions rolled in a bun.  They were also quite yummy.

samsa

Popular dishes here include several noodle dishes.  We had the Mom’s Laghman (hand-made pulled noodles served with stir fried beef and vegetables).  For those of you who like homemade noodles, this is definitely a dish for you.

mom’s laghman

The consensus favorite amongst the group, however, was the Korma Chop, a dish consisting of dry-fried noodles with beef and vegetables.  The noodles are bite-sized in this dish and more toothsome and chewier than the hand-pulled noodles.  In fact, the beef and vegetables are somewhat superfluous.  The sauce is flavorful, with a bit of a bite, and paired with the noodles, it is an excellent dish.

korma chop

Somewhat more familiar to many diners is the Dolan kabob, which are lamb kabob skewers where the lamb is seasoned with salt, cumin, and red pepper.  These were good but did not stand out like the noodle dishes did.

dolan kebab

Another favorite was the Goshnan, described as a Uyghur-style pizza, stuffed with beef, onions and red peppers.  I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as a pizza (it has a double sided crust)—in some ways, it resembles a British pasty, but with deeper flavors and a lighter crust.  It is quite filling and quite delicious.

what’s left of the goshnan

We also tried the spicy-sour tofu, which is the Uyghur take on Mapo Tofu (the Chinese hot and spicy tofu dish).  It was good but not a standout in the dishes we ordered.

spicy-sour tofu

The potato silk was a hit, as it consisted of sautéed shredded potato with scallions, red peppers, and carrots.  Our son was particularly enamored with this one (it contains potatoes, after all).  This isn’t something you can typically order at an Asian restaurant and is well worth trying.

potato silk

Another well-liked dish was the Beef Yotaza, a spicy stir fried beef with assorted vegetables and served with steamed buns.  There was a nice bite to the dish, and the steamed buns are very similar to mantou (a northern Chinese steamed bun).

beef yotaza

The honey fish is fried tilapia seasoned with sweet and sour sauce and cooked with peppers, onions, and pineapples.  I wasn’t a fan of this dish, but others found it to be quite delicious.  (sorry–the official food photographer failed on this one (that’s me!)).

And, finally, there was the Dolan chicken—fried chicken cooked with mushrooms, onions, red and green peppers, and bean sprouts.  This was the consensus least favorite dish, as the flavors were muddled and meh.  (another fail on the part of the food photographer)

But there are salads!  Below is the Tatlik salad, consisting of lettuce (duh!), cucumbers, beets, apples, and pineapple.

Tatlik salad

The restaurant also has surprisingly good desserts.  Or, rather, if you judge the restaurant against other Asian restaurants, it has excellent desserts.  If you judge the restaurant against European and American restaurants, the desserts are passable.  (No photos because we consumed them too quickly.). We tried the Dolan cake, which is the Uyghur version of baklava.  It is dryer than traditional Middle Eastern or Greek baklava, but it is very flavorful.  The Kat-Kat cake is a traditional Uyghur cake, and it was my favorite as it was not overly sweet and had an unusual but pleasant flavor.  The fried bananas were good, but you have to like bananas (obviously) to like this dessert, and the Bak-Kal-Li is a walnut cake dried with chocolate.  This is a heavy—almost peasant-like—cake that is worth trying but is not for everyone.

I also highly recommend the Uyghur tea, which uses black tea as a base but adds ginger, date, and other fruit flavors as well.  Even the son, who does not like tea, liked this one.

The restaurant itself is small and austere, typical of an Asian hole-in-the-wall restaurant, but the wait staff is friendly, competent, and helpful.  We really liked the food at Dolan Uyghur and will definitely be back to try new dishes!

Dolan Uyghur is located at 3518 Connecticut Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (www.dolanuyghur.com).

Kusama Exhibit

I interrupt my regularly scheduled program (of mostly trips, food, and books) to talk about the Kusama exhibit we saw at the Hirshhorn Museum earlier this week as part of the US-Japan Leadership Program.  Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist and writer whose exhibit, Infinity Mirrors, is currently at the Hirshhorn.  It is impossible to describe the Infinity Mirrors exhibit, other than to say that it is the artist’s attempt to convey her feelings about death, life, and eternity.

So, rather than to attempt to put into words what her art is like (and poorly at that), I opt for photos of some of her exhibits.  There are six infinity rooms that you go into in groups of two or three, and you stay for 20-30 seconds.  (The curators all have stopwatches.)  While this sounds like too brief a time for each room, I suspect (and the curators confirm) that staying for much longer becomes extremely disorienting.  There are smaller scale exhibits with similar themes that you can gaze into for as long as you want.

I am generally not a contemporary art fan, but this is so different that if you ever have the opportunity to go see it, you certainly should.  (It is part of a national tour.). I am still trying to decide what I think about the artist and her art and have not arrived at any conclusion yet.  Look at the photos and decide for yourself.  (Most of the photos are courtesy of our son, Marcus.)

infinity mirror room

looking into infinity

infinity mirror room

the color room!

For those of you in the DC area, the exhibit runs through May 14.  See more at https://hirshhorn.si.edu/kusama/

Book review: A Presumption of Death by Jill Paton Walsh

A Presumption of Death (Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane, #2)A Presumption of Death by Jill Paton Walsh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a huge fan of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers, and I was cautiously optimistic when I discovered that there were additional mysteries written by Jill Paton Walsh based loosely on notes written by Dorothy Sayers. There generally has not been a good track record of sequels of this sort, but the Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane series seems to be an exception.
The mystery set in this book mostly falls to Harriet Vane to solve, but all of your favorite characters are there, from the Dowager Duchess of Denver to Mary and Charles Parker to the current Duke and Duchess of Denver. And, of course, Harriet and Peter.
As for how convincing the book is as a worthy sequel, I think the book holds up pretty well. Think of it as the first carbon copy of the original (I know–I date myself). The book is a strong and clean copy but definitely a derivative of the original. The most notable derivative is the Dowager Duchess. I adore her character and her unique combination of insight and rambling. In this book, she is there but is not quite her original idiosyncratic self, although still quite appealing.
The mystery is a solid Sayers mystery, with interesting secondary characters and the ubiquitous Bunter. All in all, this is a solid addition to the Lord Peter Wimsey canon.

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