Monday, October 6, 2008

Food and Neighborhood Planning

My all-time favorite cuisine is Indian food. Love it. Here's the back story:

My mother traveled to India a few times when I was a kid. They were business trips, so my sister and I didn't tag along. Nonetheless, the savory spices of India made their way into our home when I was young and impressionable. This was long before the explosion of inexpensive Indian/Bangladeshi restaurants along East 6th Street in Manhattan, though you could still find a spattering of Indian restaurants in the 1970's, and we did. I have recollections of attending outdoor Indian festivals with sitar music, bright colors everywhere, and the smells coriander and cumin wafting in the air. Visits to the homes of family friends usually included the staples of chapati and daal with samosas for fun and sweet, honey-laden desserts that I ate too quickly to ever learn what they were called. My mom seemed to be the only adult woman not clad in a sari, yet she dressed in silk-screens and batiks made in India, that reflected the fashions of our friends.

Looking back, it doesn't surprise me that Gopal, my very first boyfriend in high school, was from an Indian family. He was a total New York village kid just like me -- but a bit more traditional considering both parents were academics, and they were still together, unlike mine... and unlike about 80% of my friends' parents. We took the D train to school each day, yet our courtship did not begin on the train, but in 9th grade Social Studies class, where I found him irresistably funny - I'm a sucker for intelligent humor. Freshman year, Gope had these huge glasses that covered 1/2 his face, but I could tell hidden under the glasses was a really, really cute boy. On our first date he took me to see a pretty bad horror movie, while most time together was spent hanging out on Greenwich Village stoops, and eating felafel on MacDougal Street.

I was invited to spend a lot of time with Gopal's family. Somehow, it was his Hindu family that introduced this girl of eastern European Jewish stock to the 2nd Avenue Deli's fantastic pastrami -- only in New York. While getting invited to the boyfriend's house did sometimes include kosher food, more often than not, Gopal's disco-dancing mom found the time to cook delicious dishes from her home coastal city of Chennai, the thought of which still makes my mouth water a quarter of a century later.

I first came to Albany in 1986 for college, after graduating, I stayed in town for a while. During my early Albany years, there was only one Indian option in town -- and it was outrageously priced. I was living in Center Square when Shalimar, the first affordable-for-just-out-of-college-folk-without-a-real-job Indian restaurant opened, and I became an immediate regular customer.

Fast forward to the 2000's.

In 2001, I bought a house in Pine Hills. So, where do I find myself going whenever I can afford to soothe my craving for Indian? Most times -- Curry House, though I also love Tandoor Palace. Happily, I live just about 1/2 way between the two. When I sat down with the TU on Sunday, I thought about getting to both of these locations as I read this article about a great proposal to make Madison Avenue between South Allen and Lark Street more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly. Fantastic. From the article:

Now, some residents and business people in the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association want the road reduced from four to two traffic lanes from South Allen to Lark streets with a turning lane and a bicycle lane.
"It's been done in a lot of cities to great effect," said Virginia Hammer, a member of the subcommittee that made the recommendation. "It's time for Albany to get on board with some enlightened ideas. What we need is a more pedestrian-friendly and bicycle-friendly city."
Right on, Virginia Hammer! I walk up and down segments of this stretch of Madison at least twice a week, and I can attest that crossing at intersections is quite a challenge because there's always a turning car. My very unscientific observations also tell me that foot traffic along Madison is on the rise. And while I haven't worked up the guts to bike Albany yet, I recently saw a well-trained biking family I know riding along the sidewalk of Madison Avenue -- clearly because riding in the street is just not safe.

Meanwhile, Muddy Cup owner Jim Svetz, speaks to the frustration of trying to park on Madison in the article:
Jim Svetz has a bird's-eye view of the road from the Muddy Cup, his coffeehouse next to the Madison Theater.
"Everyone who has tried to drive on this road, park on this road, make a left-hand turn on this road, knows it's a good idea," he said. "When you park, you have to wait to get out of your car. You're trapped until all the cars go by. When you try to parallel park, you're doing it in the middle of a high-speed lane."
Exactly. Back in my larger-carbon-footprint-making everyday driving days, I often tried to park on Madison between South Allen and South Main usually to go to Curry House, Muddy Cup, or the CVS. Hard to find a spot. Hard to get out of the car when cars are whirring past you at 30 mph.

If you don't know which official Albany neighborhood you reside in, you can always check the Council of Neighborhood Association (CANA) map here. Pine Hills has this colorful map on their website:

The map doesn't quite match the boundaries on the CANA map, but you know... we're a big, happy family, and I think you can actually join a neighborhood association even if you don't live within its boundaries, but don't quote me on that one!

Come out to view the slide show announced in the TU article:
A slide show on the proposal will be shown at 7 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association meeting at the LaSalle School, 381 Western Ave. The association's members will decide whether to endorse the idea. If they do, the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations will be asked to back the plan.
And, don't you go thinking that I've forgotten all about CDTA's steep fare hike. I completely agree with this article written by someone who ummm... rides the same bus I do.

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