Adventures in Indian Cooking

I have an insatiable curiosity to try as many different types of cuisine and variety of dishes during my lifetime as possible. Apart from simply how food tastes, I’m fascinated by the social, geographical and historical factors that influence the evolution of culinary traditions. Food can bridge understanding between people and I love anything that has the power to do that! It’s so much fun to explore a new ingredient and discover how to coax out and combine flavors to recreate the taste that explodes on my tongue when I have that first bite. But there are cuisines and dishes that are so seemingly complex that it can be daunting to jump in and experiment all alone, so I’m not ashamed to seek out guidance.

As a longtime lover of Indian cuisine (see my experiments with curry in an earlier post), I decided to tackle it in my kitchen. Like the real deal. Even though I’ve explored a bit on my own, I knew it was time to sign up for a class and I chose CulinAerie near Thomas Circle in DC. CulinAerie describes itself as a recreational culinary school. I’ve always described myself as an avid home cook but now I’m officially calling myself a recreational cook! CulinAerie offers hands-on cooking, not just demonstration. And my class focused on Royal Indian cuisine or recipes from the chefs hired to cook for the Indian emperors.

The food preferred by the emperors was as rich in flavor as one might imagine. The royal family would not have eaten tomatoes or cilantro as this was considered lower class food. But nuts and lots of milk and milk products were popular. Our instructor, Rupen Rao, has published two cookbooks on Indian cuisine, one of which features Ayurvedic cooking which is an ancient way of cooking that focuses on the dietary needs of each person depending on their body type. Fascinating stuff. Rupen was friendly, knowledgeable and very funny. And he learned to cook from his mom, so ya know, legit. I’ve very much enjoyed his cookbook. Yes, of course I bought it. I openly admit to having a cookbook problem.

Rupen Rao in action.

He even threw in that tandoori spice mix for free. Such a sucker for a deal.

When we entered the classroom, we found our ingredients laid out for us. We were going to be making Chicken Korma (cashew cream sauce), Kashmir Lamb Stew, Garlic Spinach, Caraway Perfumed Rice and Indian Rice Pudding with Mango Mousse. He actually made the rice pudding for us while we cooked but he showed us every step and offered important tips.

Some of our ingredients ready for cooking. Spice mixtures, ghee, garlic, ginger, yogurt and yes, jalapeño pepper!

The first step of the Korma is to let the chicken marinate. You mix the chicken with yogurt and a bunch of delicious flavors like garlic, ginger, coriander, turmeric, sweet paprika and yes, jalapeño pepper. Huh! I knew that Indian food could be hot but I didn’t realize that the heat came from the jalapeño. Once those flavors start getting to know each other, the next step is to caramelize the onions. Ghee or clarified butter is often used in Indian cooking instead of oil. Making your own ghee isn’t hard at all. It’s really just a matter of removing the milk solids from melted butter. But you can also buy it at Asian markets and specialty markets like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. We threw the chopped onions in a hot saucepan with ghee and let them slowly caramelize, being careful to stir them regularly and keep the heat at medium.

Red onions just starting to caramelize.

Once the onions are nice and browned, remove them and in the remaining ghee, add all of the spices you’ve been marinating the chicken in and extras like cardamom, cloves and cinnamon stick. You will put the caramelized onions in a blender with cashews, chicken stock, garam masala and nutmeg. Then add this mixture to the chicken and cook. If only I could describe the amazing smells in the air.

This picture does no justice to the amazing aroma in the air.

Saucy Chicken Korma

With this delicious chicken dish, you can serve white basmati rice cooked with ghee, caraway seeds, cilantro and salt. You will be amazed by how much flavor the caraway seeds add to the rice. Absolutely delicious. Once we had some time to appreciate and enjoy all of the complex flavors of the chicken korma, we prepped for the lamb stew.

Before starting on the lamb, we easily whipped up the yummy spinach side dish. Pretty simple but so flavorful. Saute some jalapeño, garlic and onion and when softened and caramelized (that’s how you get the best flavor!), add the spinach to wilt and soften. Salt to taste and voila!

Can I just say how much I love lamb? I order it whenever I can. It’s not a blank canvas flavor of meat like chicken or fish can sometimes be, but it’s richness should be enhanced by carefully selected and time tested flavors. And the best part is that this particular dish is best with cheap cuts of lamb. The key is that you need to let it cook for a long time at a low heat. Low and slow! First step is to saute some of the seasonings like peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, black cardamom, onions and garlic. You will have created a separate mix of ground spices combined with yogurt for the lamb. Once the lamb is cooked with the spices, the yogurt mixture is added and the heat turned down way low.

The finished product!

After hours of cooking at a low heat, the flavors meld and the lamb turns soft and velvety. We didn’t have hours in class to let the lamb cook, so our lamb was a little tougher than the ideal, but the flavors were still amazing. Especially together with the rice and spinach.

Now, while we’ve all been cooking away over the chicken and lamb, Rupen has been working on the dessert of rice pudding with mango mousse. The key to rice pudding is to heat the milk first and then add rice. Once the rice has cooked, add the sugar and cardamom and nuts. Adding sugar will slow down the cooking process so it should come at the end. Thank Rupen for that important tip! I’ve been doing it wrong all this time.

See how that rice pudding shines! The top layer of mango mousse was creamy with just the right amount of sweetness.

I was stuffed by the end of the night but Indian rice pudding is not as sweet as American rice pudding so I managed a few bites of that creamy goodness. And canned Alphonso mangoes from a good Indian market are amazing. As close to right off the tree as you’ll get.

I really enjoyed this class, but I didn’t want to stop there, so I also experimented with another dish in Rupen’s cookbook for a recent dinner party with some out-of-town friends. I made the fish and mango curry. This dish called for green mango which I am very familiar with thanks to my time in the Dominican Republic, but for the first time ever, all the mango I found in the grocery store were ripe! That never happens. I was also having trouble finding curry leaves which have a bright lemony and floral flavor. I went to a mostly Latino supermarket and struck out. I was running low on time and considered substituting the curry leaves with bay leaves but it would have seriously altered the dish so I made a second supermarket run. And so glad I did! When I hit the Asian supermarket, I found both green mangoes and curry leaves.

Awesome fish and mango curry.

None of these meals would have been the same without the proper ingredients. One day, I hope to make and eat them in India. A culinary adventure through this fascinating, complex and stimulating country is on my bucket list. But until then, I will take advantage of living in DC where I can access all kinds of international markets that allow me to experiment with authentic flavors from around the world. No cuisine should be too intimidating to try. Ask for help if you need it but never be afraid to explore, in or out of the kitchen! More than likely you’ll end up with some delicious new dishes to add to your repertoire.



Celebrating the Best of DC

Every year, the Washington City Paper asks DC residents to vote for their favorites in just about every category imaginable from favorite Bloody Mary to favorite doctor (One Medical Group, oh yeah!) to favorite strip club. Yep, no service goes unnoticed. And they also throw a fun party to showcase the winners. This year it was held at the Carnegie Library Building in Mount Vernon Square.

Celebrating the best that DC has to offer.

As an avid foodie, I recognized many familiar and beloved faces at the Best of DC event. One of which was Thip Khao, winner of the best Asian Restaurant Category. Thip Khao serves up quality Laotian fare which is mostly unfamiliar to many DC residents. The name Thip Khao refers to the adorable baskets that hold individual servings of sticky rice.

Thip Khao is a favorite DC newcomer serving up traditional Laotian fare.

As an avid Instagrammer, I follow local artist Kelly Towles, so I instantly recognized his US Capitol figure. Previously, Towles featured the figure on t-shirts but this was a full blown up rendition which set the stage to showcase so many local businesses and entrepreneurs.

The US Capitol Man! Bowtie and all…

The Belgian Embassy offered up one of its iconic dishes – the Belgian Waffle. There was a sweet option but I opted for savory. The smoked salmon waffle sadly was already gone but they offered chicken pate on a waffle instead. The subtle sweetness of the waffle itself paired with the savory and creamy chicken pate was great, but it was a lot of pate!

Classic Belgium waffle with a savory chicken pate.

I was so happy to find Cotton and Reed at this event. I never used to consider myself much of a rum fan. I found rum drinks too sweet. Turns out I just wasn’t drinking the right rum. I moved to the Dominican Republic where I had my first taste of truly amazing rum. Brugal blew apart my idea of what rum should taste like. Then I tried Barbancourt from Haiti, and it was unlike anything else I’ve ever tried. It’s like thinking that all beer tastes like Coors Light and then discovering IPA. I first tasted Cotton and Reed at The Passenger, an awesome local DC bar and I was hooked. Then I heard about a Cotton and Reed pop up in Adams Morgan and my love for their rum was confirmed. So, I just had to stop by and give them some love. Stop by their tasting room at Union Market especially if you’ve never considered yourself a rum fan. You just might be a convert.

Such a delicious, spicy and complex rum. Made right here in the District of Columbia!

There was a lot of buzz when Buredo opened in DC. My friends and I made it a point to try them just after they opened. We had a sushi burrito picnic on a beautiful day in Franklin Square. And then I kinda forgot about them. It was good but there’s so much good food in this city. When I saw Buredo again at the Best of DC event and tried their shrimp tempura burrito, I was reminded that I need to get myself over there more often. So delicious!

Sushi + burrito = perfection!

And then there were the breweries! Of course, good old DC Brau made the list. I live near their brewery and tasting room and love taking advantage of the $2.50 pint special on Fridays. Best deal in town! And I was also thrilled to see 3 Stars Brewery. I’ve loved all of their beers and I need to try the Go Go Weiss, a collaboration with Other Half Brewing in Brooklyn. It’s a sour ale with cherries and cherry blossoms. It’s pink!

Happy to see relative newcomer 3 Stars Brewery getting the recognition it deserves.

Tried and true DC Brau.

I felt as if I had to choose my favorite among the favorites and while it was tough to do among so many great food and drink options, I was delighted by Daikaya’s cocktail the Hara Hara. Gin has always been my drink and this featured Joseph Magnus gin, Rinomato (an Italian bitter aperitivo), cherry blossom paste, grapefruit, lime and Thai basil. Just a touch of sweetness. It was delicious, unique and refreshing.

Daikaya’s Hara Hara was the winner of the night.


Making a House a Home

I’m lucky to see people fall in love with a house, buy it and then settle in and make it uniquely theirs – sometimes by doing extensive renovations and sometimes just by adding their own personal touch and prized possessions. I love seeing this process happen. I firmly believe that when people put themselves into their home, it creates a warm energy and appeal that goes beyond how expensive or rare their possessions are. I take pride in the fact that I can make just about any space feel inviting on any budget. I’ve made dorm rooms look homey. Even my apartment during my time in Peace Corps, when I had virtually no budget, was a space I was happy to come home to. It took some creativity, but it was a true refuge.

One of the things that tells me so much about people is the artwork they display in their home. My art collection is not worth much money. Much of it was given to me as a gift or handed down from family. Or it was purchased during my travels or to commemorate special occasions. But each piece means so much to me and represents a part of my personal journey.

This Peruvian retablo was brought back by my best friend as a gift from her trip to Ecuador.

A retablo is most often a religious painting on an altar or on a panel. My mini altar above isn’t religious in nature, but rather is a market scene filled with children’s toys. The artist is a Peruvian woman named Eleudora Jimenez. She and other members of her family make these beautiful and intricately detailed scenes and they are sold throughout South America and even exported to the US. My best friend took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands and brought me back this special gift which I cherish and proudly display in my living room.

A colorful and glittery Dominican carnival mask.

Since I lived in the Dominican Republic for a little over two years, I’ve acquired a small collection of Dominican art and try to get a new piece every time I visit. On my last trip with my sons, we traveled around the island together with their dad. It was an amazing adventure filled with so many wonderful memories. We picked up mini Carnival masks like the one above for the kids at the Centro Leon Museum in Santiago. They’re displayed in their playroom because I believe art should be accessible and surround us as we go about our daily lives. I hope that the masks serve as a reminder to my boys of their Dominican heritage and rich artistic traditions that they have witnessed on the island firsthand.

Native American treasures passed down by my beloved great aunt Jeanne.

Some of my favorite pieces are part of a collection of Native American pottery and jewelry passed down to me from my great aunt who passed away some years ago. Jeanne Loomis was married to my grandfather’s brother. She was British and met my great uncle in London where he was serving as a pilot during WWII. They married and settled back in the United States. Perhaps b/c she was from another country, my great aunt always fascinated me. She and my uncle were particularly close to my mom, their niece. Aunt Jeanne was a spitfire. She had no fear of speaking her mind and she knew how to get things done. She made every family holiday dinner a little more exciting. Later in her life, she became fascinated with Native American culture and began traveling to reservations and purchasing artwork and jewelry which she sold in her Lancaster County, PA shop. In addition to numerous pieces of gorgeous jewelry, she also passed down the above collection of Native American pottery.

The piece on the top left with the long-haired human figure is by artist Tom Wacca. And the piece on the bottom left comes from the Santo Clara reservation in New Mexico which is well known for its unique pottery from various artists. The three pieces on the bottom right were done by artists Roy Tsigowany and Stella Kwa Povi and were clearly a favorite of my aunt. And the small black and brown vessel is an example of the typical style of artist N. Sandia Jimenez. The pieces are special because of the their amazing craftsmanship but also because they remind me of my beloved aunt and her love of American culture. I will pass these down to my children in order to both keep her story alive, as well as the beauty of Native American artwork.

The Black Madonna by contemporary artist Louis Luma.

And finally, during my exploration of Dominican art, I have come to appreciate the coveted artwork by famous Haitian artists as well. Haitian art can be very expensive and the pieces that I have are not the most famous or renowned but they struck me. It takes only a second for me to realize which pieces connect with me and resonate. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love color and I also love artistic styles that lean toward folk art. So when I saw the above painting of a black Madonna by prolific contemporary Haitian artist Louis Luma, I decided it needed to be part of my collection.

Ultimately, our homes can become expressions of our history, our journey and our passions. As my own life continues to evolve, I plan to collect artwork that reflects each stage. In doing so, we create refuges for ourselves and our families and cozy, welcoming spaces for others as well.


WEARHOUSE at the Anacostia Arts Center

In addition to just about everything else in DC, the local arts scene is burgeoning and it’s really exciting to see how many ridiculously creative people we have living and producing beautiful artwork here. The WEARHOUSE event at the Anacostia Arts Center and Honfleur Gallery was an opportunity to get to know local fashion designers and jewelry makers at a night time market that felt more like a party with a DJ and mixed drinks. Note to self – drinking while shopping is dangerous to your bank account.

Before I admit to all of the things I bought and the fun designers we met, I must say that if you haven’t yet visited the strip of Good Hope Road in Anacostia where these galleries are located, you must. The quality of the artwork on display here is excellent and there’s a great community vibe that is so supportive of local artists. There’s even a cafe located inside the Anacostia Arts Center for a snack and coffee. They hold all kinds of great events here too, so it’s worth checking out their events page regularly.


Another gallery on Good Hope Road, the Craig Kraft Studio. Kraft is a light artist and this piece was pretty spectacular. 

Thanks to Instagram, I recently happened upon local jewelry designer Alissa and her design studio Off On a Tangent. Alissa and her husband Tom are both architects by trade and the jewelry pieces are inspired by great works of architecture around the world. I fell in love with her work and couldn’t resist ordering a necklace that was inspired by the stunning new African American History Museum right here on the National Mall. It was through them that I learned about the WEARHOUSE event, and I was excited to see all of their pieces in person and choose another one.


My new necklace from Off on a Tangent Shop. It kinda looks like gold, but it’s actually wood. I love it!

Another gem of a shop inside the Anacostia Arts Center is Vintage and Charmed Classic Clothing. They provided the clothing for the live window models at the event, who were completely still for so long that we didn’t realize that they were real people until one of them moved ever-so-slightly. My friend Mimi (who is a fashion hound like me) and I spent a while going through the great clothing, jewelry, shoes and bags in this small shop. And I came away with some new earrings because I rarely leave a vintage clothing store empty-handed.


My new earrings from Vintage and Charmed. I especially love the big gold earrings. Serious statement pieces.

Over at the Honfleur Gallery, we discovered the black and white screen printed bags of Printed Wild. I loved the clean and bold patterns inspired by nature and finally decided on a square pouch bag because of the unusual shape. Like Off on a Tangent, you can buy Printed Wild products (which are not limited to just bags, by the way, but also towels, pillows and other household stuff) online as well as get lucky enough to stumble upon them at events like this one or find them in small specialty stores around town like Salt & Sundry.


Some of the great, bold prints at Printed Wild.

There were so many other great fashion makers who we met and whose work we admired. And based on the turnout, I think it’s safe to say that the event was quite a success. I know it was for me! I would love to see the nurturing and supportive community of local artists and designers continue to grow, and I can help that happen by not only buying these local products but also telling as many people as I can about them. Shop local, indeed!


Wild Kitchen Summer Dinner Series

On a recent, gorgeous summer evening, I was fortunate enough to experience an incredible dinner party as part of the Wild Kitchen Summer Dinner Series sponsored by REI and Brightest Young Things. The dinner series consists of a number of pop-up dinner parties held throughout the summer in collaboration with local DC chefs to benefit an environmental charity serving our area. Many have already heard that REI is about to open a flagship store here in DC at the historic Uline Arena. It sounds like it’s going to be an amazing place with a cafe, courtyard for musical performances and giant fire pit. They plan to continue to host events like this one. REI recognized the link between people who love great food and who care about the environment and decided to bring them all together as part of their national United Outside campaign. Every single cent of the proceeds goes to the charity of the night. The charity for our dinner was The Chesapeake Conservancy which was exciting since the Chesapeake Bay is near and dear to my heart. As a child, my grandfather had a boat and we spent many weekends exploring the Chesapeake. And I also went to college on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and spent my summers working in Ocean City, MD. So, I was super interested to learn about the work of the Conservancy and all they are doing to protect the Bay and to give people access to this amazing natural resource that is so fundamental to our entire region.

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My gorgeous friend Haleh and I taking advantage of the spectacular evening light to snap a pic.

One of the reasons I chose this particular dinner is because the chef for the evening was from Whaley’s, the newest member of SE DC’s Yards Park restaurant scene. Whaley’s  has been getting a lot of buzz for its spectacular seafood so I knew there was potential for an amazing food experience here. When we arrived at Wunder Garten, a fun and quirky German style beer garden in NoMa within sight of the Uline Arena and where REI has their community space, we were greeted with a delicious IPA donated by Atlas Works and two long, adorably decorated picnic tables. Since the number of tickets sold for each dinner was limited, we were a small group of about 30 people just sharing a family style meal. First, we heard from REI and learned more about the United Outside Campaign and their plans for the new DC store. Then we met folks from the Chesapeake Conservancy and learned about the great work that they are doing and the improving health of the Bay. And then it was time to dig in.

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Fresh and briny Oysters Rockefeller

Of course there were oysters. Delicious oysters. Briny and garlicky and amazing Oysters Rockefeller on a bed of rock salt. Everything was served family style and the presentation was just spectacular. The second course was such an unexpected and delicious treat – soft shell crabs with a salad of roasted red pepper and charred corn. The orange of the pepper puree, the red of the actual roasted peppers, bright purple onions and yellow corn topped with the soft shell crabs made for a stunningly beautiful plate. As we learned from our Chesapeake Conservancy friends, the window of time when soft shell crabs can be harvested is very narrow, so we lucked out. I admit that I have only ever tried soft shell crabs fried in a sandwich, but these were grilled which enhanced rather than masked the delicate flavor of the rich meat.


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Succulent soft shell crab. Can you believe those colors?

And then for another showstopper – Whole Roasted Sea Bass. Delicate and delicious fish with a light rustic herb sauce and fresh tomatoes. It was a work of art but that didn’t stop us from digging in. As we enjoyed the fish and chatted with our dinner mates, the sun began to set and candles were lit casting a magical glow over the garden. By candlelight, we enjoyed the final course of the evening, grilled peaches with marscapone cheese and honey. A perfectly light and seasonal dessert after such an extraordinary meal.

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Stunning Sea Bass

Every single dinner in the Wild Kitchen series has sold out. And it’s no wonder. This was that rare evening of really special food and drink, great conversation with like-minded folks and philanthropy. It was an evening that I will not soon forget and one that has set the bar high for the perfect summertime dinner party.


Afternoon Art Break

Indeed, I am lucky to live in a cultural mecca with a plethora of museums and galleries. There are great permanent collections, new exhibits and art events galore to explore. And instead of waiting until friends come into town to play tourist, I’ve committed myself to taking a few hours here and there when I can to experience art. I can get easily overwhelmed and overstimulated if I try to see an entire museum. Taking an hour or two and seeing just one or two collections makes it easy to contemplate and appreciate the artwork and also helps to stimulate my creativity and productivity. It gives my day a great boost. And I don’t feel pressured that I must see every piece or that I’m missing out on something because I live here. I can take my time.

My last afternoon art break was at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. It had easily been ten years since I visited the NMWA even though I’ve always loved it. Somehow it just got overlooked, but every time I drove by I made a mental note to get over there. Like many area museums, the building itself is as much of a showpiece as the collections. It’s a popular venue for weddings and social events as the Great Hall and Mezzanine are rather breathtaking.

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The elaborate and intricate beauty of the chandeliers is reflected throughout the Great Hall.

The first work to really catch my eye was a painting called Superwoman by Kiki Kogelnik. I was drawn to the clean, hard lines and the strength that emanated from the canvas. The scissors are certainly imposing and the combat boots and dark glasses complete the “don’t mess with me” look. It’s refreshing to see a woman who is not represented as sexualized or existing simply to be pleasing to a viewer. There is so much pressure for women’s visual appearances and attitudes to line up with cultural expectations and be non-confrontational and pleasant. Any time an artist rejects that notion, I’m fascinated.

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A Superwoman indeed.

Next was this sculpture made of rubber tires entitled Acid Rain by Chakaia Booker. I instantly recognized her as the same artist who did another rubber tire sculpture in the Wonder Exhibit at the Renwick Gallery. This piece was equally fascinating. The texture and lines were amazing. It had a hard and industrial feel because of the materials yet was almost soft and flowing at the same time with the round shapes of the rubber. And the shadows and dimension made it really fun to photograph.

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The texture and controlled chaos of Acid Rain.

Juxtaposed on the opposite corner of the room was this tutu hanging from the ceiling and appearing to be dripping with wax. I had seen pictures of this piece before, Untitled #781 by Petah Coyne. The tutu appears to be floating in the air. It’s rather eerie. And again the textures were just incredible. This piece also references the traditionally feminine with the tutu, but then again it appears that the tutu is being melted and perhaps destroyed. And there is no female form here at all.

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Untitled #781

Of course it would be remiss for me not to include a work with bright, abstract colors since that is so much my own aesthetic. Symphony by Joan Snyder is contemporary and clean. It’s a massive painting taking up much of one wall so its effect in person is more striking than even in pictures.

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Bold colors and patterns caught my eye in Symphony.

This will not be my last afternoon art break and I will continue to share some of my favorite finds and the works of art in DC that really speak to me. In the meantime, if you also haven’t been lately or you’ve never heard of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, check it out! It’s not free like the Smithsonian Museums but tickets are only $10 and the museum is well worth it.


Celebrating the Love of DC Pride

Washington DC’s annual Pride Celebration is always a special time in the city. The first Pride Festival was held in 1975 so there’s a rich history here of celebrating DC’s LGBTQ community. This year, I attended the Pride Parade along with my best friend and two sons. We left with such warm feelings of love and peace. There were marchers holding signs of solidarity and support that brought tears to my eyes. It was an emotional and happy day, and I was grateful to experience it with my children.

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DC Pride

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The boys with all their swag.

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Peace Corps marches in the Pride Parade every year with volunteers carrying flags to represent all of the countries where Peace Corps is currently working. Go Peace Corps!

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Then I woke up the next day to the news of the mass shooting in Orlando. This horrific event was even more difficult to process after the previous day’s experience. To be present in a crowd of joyful people emanating love and peace is amazingly life affirming. I left the parade feeling so hopeful for humanity’s capacity for love and the progress we are making towards understanding and not just acceptance, but celebration, of one another. But the shooting was a grave reminder that this spirit of inclusion and love for diversity does not exist in every part of this country or within every American’s heart. And it has left me with a growing feeling of dread, scared of just how much hate is lurking out there and how easy it could be for powerful people to stoke that hatred and perpetuate more violence.

On the day of the parade, I was struck by the sign held by this man representing the Latino GLBT History Project. It says “Mr. Trump, I’m not a criminal nor a drug dealer…I’m a Mexican American GAY man fighting for our HUMAN RIGHTS and our LGBT community”. It was a reminder that in spite of all the strides that have been made, there is still plenty more work to be done to protect the human rights of all groups. The Orlando massacre once again made that heartbreakingly clear and made this man’s message even more poignant and urgent knowing that many of the victims were also both gay and Latino.

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Everyone wants to figure out what we can do to prevent these awful shootings. The causes of these mass shootings are complex and require equally complex, multi-faceted solutions, but it’s clear that we’re having a hard time figuring out what exactly those solutions should be. Resist access to guns? Improve mental health services? Battle racism and prejudice? Reign in radical religious groups? We clearly can’t agree what would work or how to go about doing these things.

I take comfort in my strong belief that there is a capacity for love and goodness within everyone. I know that when people do hateful things it’s because they are scared or hurting themselves. At the ripe old age of 6 years old, my son wisely proclaimed that everyone has good inside of them but some people just can’t find it. Maybe we can help people find their goodness by loving them, even when they seem entirely unworthy of our love. It’s so difficult to do but what if we take example from Mother Teresa and tell everyone, including those with hate in their hearts, “I see you too”. There doesn’t seem to be any other choice.

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Following the “Beach” Balls Underground

I will freely admit that one of the biggest draws of seeing the current “Raise/Raze” exhibit at the Dupont Underground was just to get inside the underground space. There’s been a lot of buzz of the use of these abandoned trolley tracks as a public art space and I was excited to see it for myself. Tickets to the exhibit were sold out within 24 hours so I clearly was not alone.

“Raise/Raze” is constructed from the thousands of plastic balls used in last year’s very popular “Beach” exhibit at the Building Museum. The balls were re-purposed for this exhibit in another interactive display allowing visitors to create blocks and build structures with the balls. The intentional lighting and shadows create opportunities for some great pictures.

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The black hole within the glowing white balls.

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Entering the Raise/Raze exhibit.

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My somewhat somber underground selfie.

Ironically and completely by chance, earlier that day I also visited the National Building Museum on a field trip with my son’s school. Last year, I took my boys to experience the “Beach” installation at the Building Museum which was essentially a huge ball pit mimicking a beach scene. We had so much fun! I literally had to drag them out of the “water”. Seeing the balls in their new space today was that much more compelling after being reminded of that unique experience. I love that both exhibits were interactive which allows patrons to connect more authentically with the artwork. And the contrast between the balls in a light and airy beach scene and now literally in a dark, underground passage was striking.

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A decidedly more lighthearted selfie playing with the kids at the “Beach”.

The National Building Museum is an amazing space in its own right, filled with tons of light and soaring, majestic ceilings. Pretty much the opposite of being underground.

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On this trip to the museum, my son was learning how to plan a city to make it the most livable and accessible for its residents. He and his classmates learned about the different uses of buildings, i.e. residential, commercial, industrial, etc. They then each built their own structure and figured out the best location in the town for their building based on its purpose and the needs of the people living in the space.

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The city map displaying some of the awesome creative structures built by elementary students.

It struck me how much the kids’ lesson demonstrated an ongoing theme of the use of public spaces in creating viable cities. The “Beach” and “Raise/Raze” installations specifically demonstrate the real world necessity of art in such spaces for building community, raising awareness and exploring important themes of our collective well-being.