Saturday, August 27, 2011

Liveblogging Hurricane Irene

5:11pm
The last time I liveblogged anything, it was the birth of my niece, Aviva.  That was a good day.  Today is a stupid day. I came up from New Orleans last week and so far have gone through an earthquake and a partial evacuation of the island of Manhattan. So much for lazing on the beach all week.  They've closed the MTA and it has been very hard to find beer and batteries on the Upper West Side.  Wolf Blitzer has been deploying his lackeys to rainy coasts down the shore of New Jersey.  We've decided not to tape the windows, and I have no choice but to settle in for my third cocktail and hope for the best. ¡OlĂ©!

6:33pm
Nothing has happened, except a little rain.  Wolf Blitzer continues to deluge the public with his threats of natural and unnatural violence.  Like I said, nothing has happened.

7:49pm
A few people have died in Virginia, it seems.  One of them had a heart attack while hammering plywood to his windows.  This is why hurricane preparations are bunk, for the most part.  This is also how I feel about exercise. Why take the risk of having a heart attack during a jog when you can just have a heart attack sitting on the couch eating Cheetos?

7:58pm
We took Rudy the dog for a walk.  We are not supposed to go down to the pier in Riverside Park, but we braved the soggy yellow "CAUTION WET PAINT" tape and went anyway.  Nothing like a hurricane to bring out the hidden thrills of the Upper West Side.

9:04pm
ConEd is threatening to cut off power to Lower Manhattan, and  Bloomberg says he will not evacuate Rikers Island. 

10:00pm
Nassau County is opening shelters for residents of storm surge zones.  There are reportedly 500 customers without power on Long Island.  We can see lightning from our window.  Rudy is snoring on the couch, embodying the true meaning of the calm before the storm.

10:15pm
The good people at Critical Resistance are pushing a petition for Mayor Bloomberg to evacuate Rikers Island, as it is at risk for major flooding.  From the linked article:  "Its ten jails have a capacity of close to 17,000 inmates, and normally house at least 12,000, including juveniles and large numbers of prisoners with mental illness–not to mention pre-trial detainees who have yet to be convicted of any crime. There are also hundreds of corrections officers at work on the island... 'According to the city’s Department of Correction, no hypothetical evacuation plan for the roughly 12,000 inmates that the facility may house on a given day even exists.'"

10:28pm
They closed the George Washington Bridge.  Two Staten Island kayakers had to be rescued by NYPD harbor officers. I have no comment on that last one.

10:33pm
A member of the press corps asked Bloomberg why Rikers Island isn't being evacuated. He said "there's no reason to."  Referring to homeless people, he also said that the MTA isn't "100% sure" that the subways have been evacuated.  "Bottom line is, you shouldn't be living in the subways."  Looks like somebody should take some sensitivity classes at mayor school.

10:38pm
The Fung Wah buses are being used to transport residents of public housing in Lower Manhattan to temporary shelters.  I wonder if they'll put the folding chairs in the aisles like they do during regular business hours.

10:50pm
It's pouring.  I'm going to bed.

10:58pm
Haha "feisty senior citizens" yell at the CNN reporter in Atlantic City about how they're from "good stock" and won't evacuate.

11:06pm
CNN is asking Police Commissioner Ray Kelly if we should be concerned about the "looting and violence" that New Orleans experienced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  He says that the police will do their best to "maintain order" but people should not leave their valuables at home.

11:09pm
Ugh too many Katrina references on the news.  Let's hope we don't have an MP crackdown in New York if this thing really is as bad as they're saying.

11:13pm
Soaking wet and windblown CNN reporter: "I didn't know you could have tornadoes in the middle of a hurricane."
CNN Weather Guy in the studio: "Uh, yes."

11:17pm
I've had enough of this nonsense.  Hopefully nothing will happen.  Good night, Irene.

Sunday, August 28th
7:05am
It's still raining. I'm going back to sleep.

9:38am
Still raining.  I'm having such a weird dream about Lyndon Johnson.  He's asking me to make him a list of college-bound students who can sing well and fix the highway.

10:14am
Me: "Did I miss the hurricane?"
Mom: "Yeah."
Me: "Oh."
My sister: "It's a tropical storm now."
Mom: "Don't go in the park. All the trees are falling down."
My sister: "Want to go to the Food Emporium?"

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Olive Juice, Mid-City

The first time I went to the Olive Branch Cafe, I was under duress. I had locked my keys inside my car while returning books to the Mid-City library, already running late for a staff meeting at my job across town.  I needed to enlist someone to break into my car, and luckily for me, Olive Branch Cafe owner and manager, Russell "Rusty" Autry, was just the man for the job.

Well, to his credit, Rusty didn't actually break into my car. But he sat me down, gave me a root beer, and called one of his regulars who worked for Pop-A-Lock. In short, Rusty hooked me up in a big way, totally out of the kindness of his heart. He wouldn't even let me buy a bar tab for the Pop-A-Lock guy.

A few months later (while paying fines at that same library), I thought I'd have a proper meal at the Olive Branch. I sat down to enjoy a veritable feast of delicious food and quirky tidbits about Rusty's vision for the restaurant.

The Mid-City location is actually the third Olive Branch Cafe in New Orleans; the original two are pizzerias on the Westbank. In its three years of operation in the American Can Building, it has offered an eclectic menu spanning the cuisines of Cajun country (jambalaya, red beans and sausage), the Mediterranean (Italian sub, hummus tahini), and beyond (Cuban sandwich, "Asian-inspired" Shastri sandwich).

My dining companion and I indulged in the sweet citrus salad, the flavorful eggplant sandwich, and the surprisingly tasty match of bleu cheese and sweet potato chips. "We try to do foods creatively," the kitchen head, Chef Mike, explained. "But nothing too fancy."

"The concept is always developing," Rusty said, describing how his business is more than just food. "We want to provide a really good neighborhood feel."

The taste of Louisiana is found not only in the smoky balsamic dressing on an off-the-menu Gulf shrimp salad, but also in the artwork adorning the restaurant's walls. Rusty took care to incorporate local flavor in the decorations, proudly pointing out that the hand-crafted fleur de lis suspended from the dining room ceiling is "probably the largest fleur de lis in the city." Mixed-media installations utilize artistically repurposed storm debris from Hurricane Katrina.

To the tunes of a pop-tastic 80s dance soundtrack, we ate our way through enormous portions of garlicky cayenne-spiced hummus, a customized redfish and spinach wrap - the kitchen is very accommodating of a la carte and vegetarian orders - and what seemed like an endless pile of perfectly
textured sweet potato fries.

Two hours later, we walked out with to-go boxes, Chef Mike's recipe for the balsamic Gulf shrimp salad - "They say chefs shouldn't share their secrets, but why not?" - and a promise to return soon. As soon as those library books need to be renewed.

* * * Simulcast on NOLADefender.com!