Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bad Location, Good Food

It's hard to write a restaurant review, without sounding like one of those self-proclaimed cuisine experts with their indigestible “resto-lingo,” or like an article from Gourmet Magazine. I've almost given up on restaurant reviews altogether. Even so, I'm going to recommend Top Thai Restaurant in Portland.

A key to restaurant success is location, location, and location. Unfortunately, Top Thai is in the wrong place. There's a tattoo parlor next door, a homeless shelter a few blocks away, and a Greyhound bus terminal down the street. If that doesn't put you off, the restaurant sits on busy street overlooking an aging strip mall.

How did I find it? Eric and Paul stumbled on it by accident while attending the DDD Summit Conference last week. They were walking back from Radio Shack and were too tired and hungry to go to another place. Accidents sometimes have pleasant results.

Top Thai doesn't offer haute cuisine, but it does have a good selection of dishes that are reasonably priced. It's an example of how ordinary Thai food can be great. I recommend the steamed “Butterflies.” You can drop in and have a good meal without a lot of fuss.

The food is fresh; and Pom, the proprietor, is warm and friendly. At the moment, Pom is both the hostess and the waitress until the restaurant gets off the ground. Let me add that part of the restaurant's appeal is Pom who is so engaging that she could sell oil to the Arabs.

Top Thai
267 Saint John Street
Portland, Me.  

Open from 11 AM - 10 PM
Closed on Sunday

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I Love Miranda Hart!

What would I do without the Internet? How did I function in the dark ages before the World Wide Web? Remember the days when we depended on CBS, NBC and ABC? Today, entertainment options are just a mouse click away. 

For example, on YouTube.com, you can see entire movies and television shows. The other day, I came across Miranda, a charming British comedy series that is reminiscent of the classic American sitcoms of the 1970s (Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett, Jim Rockford, and Rhoda).

Miranda follows the exploits of its title character played by the actress Miranda Hart. Miranda is a tall (6'1) Rubenesque woman who runs a toy/joke shop. She's unmarried and doesn't have a boyfriend, all to the dismay of her overbearing mother.

Miranda doesn't fit in socially, and everything she does seems to go wrong. She's the definition of un-cool. She's clumsy, listens to 1980s pop music, and is embarrassingly inept around men. Moreover, Miranda is hopelessly in love with Gary, the handsome chef, who works at a nearby pub.

Miranda is a pathetic character, you can't help but love. I watched one episode and then another. Each succeeding episode gets better. You want Miranda to succeed, despite the odds against her.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, OneFootinBerlin!

After 131 postings and over 2500 page views, OneFootinBerlin is one year old today. It's been a slow start, but the audience is building. When I started the Blog, I didn't know where it would go or what to expect.

I've learned what people like to read and what they don't. Human interest stories about animals and children are the most popular. Stories about politics, the least. It turns out that the death of Polar Bear Knut, Oprah's encounter with the Koala, and the Schultüte were among the most popular postings. You never know what people will find interesting!
The late Knut celebrating his Birthday

And while most of my audience is from the USA and Germany, a surprising number of readers come from South Korea, France, Great Britain, Israel, and Russia.

I'm often asked how much time it takes to write a posting. It varies. Some postings take as little as 5 minutes and others take over an hour. It depends on finding photos, links, and, of course, writing the post. Some days, the writing just flows; and other days, my mind is a blank.

As I look toward to the coming year, I've already made a few changes to the Blog's format. I've added a photo of Portland Maine to the header (to reflect my connection to the city), and there's now a sidebar with an archive of popular postings. It's always interesting to see what other people are reading.

Over the year, OneFootinBerlin has become my online diary. It's been an opportunity to share my thoughts. But more importantly, writing the Blog is my time to be alone and away from the complexities of daily life. In a word, the Blog is my therapy.  

Friday, May 20, 2011

Die Sehenswürdigkeit: Besondere Orte in Berlin (Special Places in Berlin)

Siegesäule in the heart
of the Tiergarten
For people visiting Berlin for the first time, I certainly  understand the temptation to visit all the “attractions.” But you miss the local flavor of a city if you only visit the “sites.” In Berlin, people always go to the Brandenburger Tor, Check Point Charlie, the East Side Gallery, the Siegesäule, the Alexanderplatz Fernsehturm, Unter den Linden, Schloss Sansocci, and Museum Island. These are all great places, but why not try something unique, even if means missing one of these famous spots. 

Here are six Berlin sight-seeing recommendations not found in most tour books:

English Theatre Berlin:  Sure the productions are in English, but the flavor and audience is definitely Berlin. Moreover, you can actually see a live theatrical production in Berlin and understand it. The plus: it's not very expensive!

Britzer Garten: A 90-acre garden that offers art, restaurants, concerts, sports, health facilities, animals; and above all, beautifully manicured gardens and nature. In May there is an amazing Tulip show and in the fall a huge Dahlia exhibition.

Gärten der Welt im Erholungspark Marzahn: This park contains seven “Gardens of the World.” It has the largest Chinese Garden in Europe, as well as gardens from Japan, Korea, the Middle East, Bali and a “Christian” garden.  It's my favorite place to go for a quiet Sunday afternoon. Try some tea at the Chinese Pavilion overlooking the small lake.  And while you're in Marzahn, check out the block after block of Soviet Era apartment buildings.  

Public Swimming Pools: What? Some the best examples of Art Deco architecture and design can be found at a few of these wonderfully restored pools. My favorites are Stadtbad Charlottenburg, Stadtbad Neukölln, and Stadtbad Mitte. Check out the links for the 360 decree view of these facilities.

Turkish Market: It's a real Turkish Market selling exotic delicacies from the Middle East. Located in Kreuzberg, it's in the heart of Turkish Berlin.

The Headstone reads: Here I stand
at the mile-stone of my days
Berlin-Schöneberg - Friedhof Schöneberg III: Cemeteries are miniature versions of cities except all the people are dead.  Each headstone is like the front door of some one's house, each with its own unique style and nameplate. I try to imagine what the person was like and how they died.  I really enjoy the cemetery experience!

Friedholf Schöneberg III is a beautiful place to stroll; and when you're there, why not visit the graves of two of its more famous citizens:  the actress Marlene Dietrich and the photographer Helmut Newton.

Get a copy of Zitty and/or Tip Magazine: Both publications give you the low down on what's happening in Berlin. They have information concerning opera, music, film, theater, literature, and it even activities for kids. They're in German, but if you know just a few German words, you'll be able to discover a wide range of activities to enjoy. You should also check out the English language magazine, The Ex-Berliner.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

It's a Sunshine DAY!

Take your mind off all this rain and gloom. It can always be a sunshine day, at least metaphorically. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Duck Song

It's been raining for the last 5 days and the forecast is for more rain until Sunday. It's damp, cold, and gray.  Here's a video to make it a "Sunshine Day."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dogs: Detroit's Forgotten Citizens

Detroit has a lot of problems: a declining population, crime, drugs, unemployment, and poverty. But Detroit faces another problem. According to Detroit Dog Rescue (DDR), there are 50,000-100,000 stray dogs running loose in the streets of Detroit, and 90 percent of dogs picked up are euthanized. DDR was started this year after city officials refused to allow access to a network television series that would have documented the lives of these abandoned dogs trying to survive in Detroit. I guess the city fathers decided it would be too embarrassing to document the way Detroit treats some of its most vulnerable citizens. Watch the YouTube video and see how you can help. 

Whimsical Berlin - Berlin Skurril

It reads: Cats are Stupid!

Here are a few whimsical photos taken in Berlin. Unfortunately, I can't take the credit. They are courtesy of the Der Tagesspiegel.
Pro Vegan Art
One of the many wild Foxes you seen in Berlin.
They are very cute. 
This Car Keeps tabs on its Road Kills
Hand Sculpture:  President Obama
holding the Head of
Osama Bin Laden

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Vegan Capital of Maine!

Eating vegan can be good. For a City of its size, Portland (pop. 64,000) has plenty to offer in the way of vegan restaurants. I'm familiar with three restaurants in Portland that all offer vegan dishes. Vegan is not only good for your health but environmentally friendly.

When we breed animals for food, it pollutes the environment by consuming large amounts of water, grain, petroleum, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals. Moreover, the way we raise our livestock is inhumane.  Animals on factory farms have anything but a “real life.”

I haven't adopted a vegan lifestyle simply because I'm just too lazy. In any case, I do limit my consumption of animal protein, and I do go meatless one day a week. Every little bit helps. 

Last week, I discovered Little Lad's Bakery. It's a total vegan restaurant (that means they don't even serve honey). They have an affordable lunch buffet for only $4.99, and while the food isn't haute cuisine, it's filling and nutritious. It sure beats a burger, and who can argue with the price.

For those in search of an upscale restaurant, try the Green Elephant. It specializes in Asian food and has some inventive vegan dishes. On the weekends and during the tourist season, reservations are highly recommended. Even meat eaters love this place!

Finally, for something causal, try Local Sprouts. It's affordable with a pleasant kick-back atmosphere. It serves locally grown organic food. They have a number of vegan dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Try it for a real Maine experience.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

God Bless America

The other day I was web surfing on YouTube and came across God Bless America sung by the amazing Kate Smith. It's one of my favorite songs, and it became Ms. Smith's signature song during her long career. It's truly an inspiring song (watch the video and see if you can spot a future President doing a cameo role). The song was particularly popular in the 1940s, and was rediscovered in the 1970s when it became the Philadelphia Flyers good luck charm. Every time her version of the song was played at a game, the Flyers seemed to win. As a kid, I was a big Flyers fan.

What caught my eye after watching the video, was the accompanying advertisement that was displayed next to the YouTube video screen. YouTube like many websites tries to target its advertisements to the likely viewer of the video. In this case, the advertisement was “Repeal Obama,” from a right-wing organization called Newsmax.com.

I guess YouTube and Newsmax figured that people who watch a video of God Bless America are likely to be patriotic and anti-Obama. Whatever the case, I was insulted by this over generalization. Believe it or not, Democrats, Independents, and even people who support President Obama can be deeply patriotic. There seems to be a general presumption that the Republican Party is patriotic while the Democrats and President Obama are unpatriotic. All I can say is Hogwash! 

Another thing that drives me crazy is when people say the “Separation of Church and State” is a myth and that the United States was founded on Christianity.

Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution does it mention or refer to God. In fact, it says, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust.”

Moreover, the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Our founding fathers made it abundantly clear that the United States was to be a secular state. In fact, the U.S. Treaty with Tripoli in 1797 reaffirmed the Separation of Church and State. It was written while George Washington was President, passed with unanimous consent in the U.S. Senate, and signed by President John Adams. It states, in part, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion. . .” (US Treaty with Tripoli-Article 11.)

So next time someone tells you the United States was founded on Christian principles, you can politely tell them otherwise.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Where There's a Will, There's a Way!

It's worth remembering that nothing in life is easy, and that none of us are immune to life's challenges. Tackling adversity is part of life. It sounds trite, but when life gives you lemons make lemonade. This short cartoon (The Rainbow) from a popular German television show (Die Sendung mit der Maus) illustrates this important life lesson: a lesson that needs repeating. 


Eurovision: Is it Trash or Music?

The 54Th annual Eurovision Song Contest 2011 will be held this Saturday in Düsseldorf, Germany. For those of you unfamiliar with this spectacle, it's a cross between the Academy Awards, the Super Bowl, and American Idol. The contest involves over 40 countries, with each country submitting a song to be performed on live television.

The television audience casts its vote for the most popular song in the competition. However, viewers are prohibited from voting for their country's contestant. The most entertaining part of the show is when each country's voting is revealed. The results invariably reflect national rivalries. Consequently, Germany will always rank Austria last, and Austria will do the same to its German neighbor. 

People gather in bars, homes, and other public venues to watch the show. It's one of the most-watched events in the world with an audience of between 100 million and 600 million internationally. The songs range from mediocre to BAD. However, most people watch the show purely for the laughs. Quite frankly, most of the Eurovision songs are pop cheesy trash.

Last year's winner, Satellite, performed by Germany's Lena had the classic line: “I bought new underwear – they [sic] blue.” Luckily, most of the winners are quickly forgotten and fade into obscurity. However, every now and then, Eurovision surprises us with some true pop class (Olivia Newton-John, ABBA, and Celine Dion).

Why do people watch: to see schlock. And this year promises plenty of schlock thanks to Ireland's Jedward and Estonia's Getter Jaani. We can even look forward to controversy (Iceland's Sjonni's Friends has a boy-on-boy kiss as part of their performance).  

Friday the 13th

It's Friday the Thirteenth!  I'm not usually superstitious, but today is the day to be extra careful! No walking under ladders, opening an umbrella inside the house, black cats, broken mirrors, etc. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Images of Spring

A native Mainer told me that there are two seasons in Maine: Winter and the Fourth of July. You might laugh, but there's some truth in what he says.

Last year was unusual. We had a mild winter, a beautiful spring, and a very HOT summer. This year, I thought the winter would never end, but spring has now arrived. The daytime temperatures are in the lower 60s and the nights in the upper 30s!!

I still need to wear a sweater, and there's a comforter on the bed, but, at least, I'm not constantly thinking about the COLD.

Like everyone else, I'm taking advantage of the long days and increasing warmth by taking walks. It's wonderful!

Groundhogs have started rummaging, flowers have begun to bloom, and the trees have started to show signs of life. I've even spotted some Cardinals. Here are some images from around the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, my yard is still dormant, but it gives me something to wait for.