Archive for 2011

Farhadi’s A Separation Opens in NYC and LA

Thursday, December 29th, 2011


I typically shy away from making broad, bold statements. And the Shortlist for the Academy Awards hasn’t even been announced, so I am definitely putting the cart ahead of the horse. But when I first watched Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation at this year’s Abu Dhabi Film Festival, I felt the film was destined for the golden statuette, and for all the quintessential reasons why films end up winning the coveted Academy Award race.

Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation is a political film. Don’t let the critics who fail to mention that in their reviews convince you otherwise. Farhadi himself insists he did not make a political film and has said that his intention was to tell “a detective story without any detectives.” One where “the audience is the one in charge of solving the puzzles,” yet his words seem an understandable verbal shield for a filmmaker who desires to keep living and thriving in his native Iran, and not end up the way of Jafar Panahi — in jail, or Mohsen Makhmalbaf — in exile.

Watch the film’s trailer below and read the entire piece, which includes some thoughtful comments by readers, on the Huffington Post.


Top image courtesy of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival

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Last Minute Gift Ideas

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

First of all, let me wish everyone a wonderfully Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2012. May you get what you most desire. My wish came true right before the end of the year, so I’m in the spirit of the holidays all the way this year!

Check out this gift guide I just published on the Huffington Post Style vertical, for some cool ideas if you need any last minute gifts. Seriously, there is something for everyone, from $1.99 all the way to 800 bucks. With loads in between.

Stay safe, drive sober and see you all next year!

“I love giving gifts and I love receiving them. I really like giving little kids extravagant gifts. You see their little faces light up and they get excited. If it’s a really good gift, I love receiving it, like jewels, small islands.” Gina Gershon

I’ll admit that I enjoy giving gifts much more than receiving them, but only because I’m always disappointed at holiday time when my friends and loved ones do not come through with diamonds, mini convertibles and yes, even a private island all my own. Joking aside (am I really joking?) I recognize that it’s sometimes hard to find just the right gift to match with the personality. What do you give the DIY dad who loves Home Depot, yet has every nifty tool the chain store has to sell? Or what to do when your bank account is in the double digits but you still want to take care of your best friend in a way he or she will remember?

Following are a few, very personal choices. It’s a collection of things I’ve come across and just could not resist, or extensions of this global culture explorer’s journey, through which I’ve been introduced to experiences beyond my wildest dreams.

Read the ENTIRE PIECE and check out the SLIDESHOW on the Huffington Post

Top image, © E. Nina Rothe, at the NY Palace Hotel

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Kanwal’s Healthy Corner — Tollhouse Cookies

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

By Kanwal Ullah

Christmas is less than a week away and I hope you all finished your shopping and are preparing for a fun holiday evening. I love Christmas. I especially love Christmas in New York. It’s the one time of the year where everything seems to go together. The cold weather, hustle and bustle of crowds, the lights on 5th avenue, the Macy’s display and please, lets not forget about the tree at Rockefeller center! Yes, Christmas time in New York is where it all comes together!

One of my favorite things about this time of year is baking gifts for friends. I think there is no more personal gift you can give a loved one than a gift you’ve made yourself. There are a ton of ways to get creative, make your own baked goods and package them. Not only is this a personal touch, but it is also very economical.

Every year, for my friends I make a batch of homemade baked goods. This year I took the chocolate chip cookie route and kept it very simple. There’s no better tasting chocolate chip cookie than a Tollhouse cookie. Onto the Nestlé website I went and got the original recipe. I made a batch of these cookies and packaged them in a holiday tin ($1.50). Now, I used regular chocolate chips but you can certainly be more festive and use red and green M&Ms, although I do like he simplicity of plain chocolate chips. Baking your gifts for loved ones opens up an array of things that could be made: cookies, brownies, cup cakes, mini cakes, brittle, chocolate bark etc.

I hope you will take time to make a personal gift for a loved one this year! Please see below for the Tollhouse cookie recipe.


2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
1 cup chopped nuts


PREHEAT oven to 375° F.

COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

BAKE for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

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Kanwal’s Healthy Corner: The Perfect Bowl of Oatmeal

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

By Kanwal Ullah

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but it’s cold outside! Looks like old man winter is finally showing his face. When the weather gets cold I want nothing more than a big bowl of hot oatmeal for my morning breakfast. Sure, whipping together a bowl of instant oats is nothing more than a quick untexturized fix but, I want the real stuff. Yes, steel cut oats cooked perfectly, with just the right amount of chewiness and fluffiness. Some may say cooking up a bowl of steel cut oats is a long, tedious task taking up to half an hour of constant stirring, over a low heat on the stove but I have an awesome short cut for this which takes no longer than five minutes at the stove! Read on to see my sure fire way of making the perfect bowl of steel cut oatmeal.


  • 1 cup of steel cut oats
  • 4 cups of water
  • A pinch of salt, if desired


Pour the water in a two quart pot and place on stove, over high heat. Once the water has come to a big boil add the oats and stir. Take the oats off of the heat and continue to stir until the boil has ended. Cover the pot and leave on the counter or stove over night or for at least seven hours. That’s it. The next morning you should have a pot of perfectly cooked steel cut oatmeal!

Warm up and add a splash of milk for creaminess or sprinkle on some cinnamon, chopped apple and walnuts with a touch of honey or agave for sweetness. You can pretty much top oatmeal however you want!

Servings: 4

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Nutella Hot Chocolate… YUM!

Monday, December 12th, 2011

I’m enamored with the Gianduja Hot Chocolate from Eataly, you know the big guy’s place in Chelsea, half marketplace, half eatery, WHOLE deliciousness… Anyway, I knew I had to concoct something similar, but also super easy, at home. I found a recipe for a Nutella Hot Chocolate online and added my own twist — dark chocolate shavings to give it more texture. Check it out, try it out and give me your thoughts.


  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 heaping tablespoon Nutella
  • 1 heaping tablespoon bittersweet chocolate shavings


Mix all ingredients, and heat in the microwave, 45 seconds at a time. In about 2 minutes, you should have the most delicious concoction. I did, am enjoying it now while I post this…

Serves: 1

Top image by

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A Charlie Brown Christmas Tree = Perfection!

Saturday, December 10th, 2011

I love Christmas and the holiday just isn’t the same if I can’t decorate a tree. But these days, who has time to spend all of Christmas eve putting ornaments on a six foot fir, when my NYC apartment can look just as “festivus” with a little Charlie Brown tree and a few mini ornaments?!

So, I searched and searched around my ‘hood and was coming up with a lot of cute tree vendors but all quoting prices around $40 for a mini fir with stand. When I think small, I think diminutive budget as well.

Then I walked into Whole Foods this past Friday and found the perfect tree, on sale and absolutely divine at $19.99. It’s called a Table Top Fraser Fir Tree and for every tree cut down, the following year two trees are planted, so you are getting your green, saving your green and helping to plant more green. Winning!

But I imagine these trees won’t be around forever, so get yourself to a WF store near you and then pick up some decorating tips from Country Living, the kind folks responsible for the cute tree pictured above. N-joy!

Top image by Keith Scott Morton, courtesy of

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Blue Cheese Stuffed Olives’ Martinis… Yeah, That’s Right!

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

On a recent fall outing with a favorite friend, I enjoyed a fabulous plate of blue cheese stuffed olives, which were supposed to come as part of a martini, but that night we were both in the mood for red wine. The waitress at the W Hotel in Union Square was super sweet and brought us the olives anyway, sans the booze. She could probably see the craving in our eyes…

Now I’m on a martini kick, must be the cold weather, so adding those heavenly olives to the cocktail and making it “dirty” is just a given and I’ve found this particular recipe on She of course, makes her olives from scratch. I prefer buying them and there’s a cool spot in Yorkville (UES) in NYC called Pickles & Olives that has them ready-made. Can’t go wrong with a place that specializes in just two things, can you?!

Here is the Vodka Martini recipe. Hope you’ll make it the highlight of some of your parties, this holiday season!

Serves Four:

  • 12 blue cheese stuffed olives
  • 3 oz Grey Goose Vodka
  • a splash of Vermouth

Skewer three olives for each glass. Fill martini glasses with ice water, fill the shaker with just ice, halfway full. Add the vodka and the vermouth and shake 30 times. Why 30? Martha says so.

Dump ice water from the glasses, fill with chilled mixture. Add skewers and enjoy!

Top image courtesy of, another great place to get your olives.

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Why Jeff Straughn of Brand Synergy Group is Super Cool

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011


Stepping into the offices of Brand Synergy Group in the heart of Union Square in NYC feels a lot like arriving at a Zen garden of uber-cool and fame. The open layout shouts success from every corner and, as I made my way to meet CEO Jeff Straughn, that hip hop artist (entourage in tow, of course) I bumped into coming out of the elevator but have yet to place only added to the company’s mystique.

I’ll admit, I knew next to nothing about Brand Synergy Group, or BSG, before my interview with Straughn. OK, if I’m to be totally honest, I should actually do away with the “next to” and give into my utter and complete ignorance. But only because sometimes out of lack of awareness there can come great enlightenment, and I found in Straughn a wonderfully passionate spokesperson for the wonder that is BSG.

If you live, love, breathe and work in today’s world, you have experienced the fruits of BSG’s labors. You’ve watched the 7Up commercials featuring Cee Lo Green, you may have joined the Facebook page featuring Nivea’s “voice of the brand” Rihanna, and you will soon rock to Abigail Breslin’s new avatar as a rockstar, part of the band Cabb which she formed with BFF Cassidy Reiff. BSG is the pulse of coolness today, both as an artists’ management company and as a brand placement enterprise…


Top image courtesy of Brand Synergy Group

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Kanwal’s Healthy Corner: Sweet Potato Pudding

Monday, December 5th, 2011

By Kanwal Ullah

Sure, Thanksgiving is over, but the season for sweet potatoes is still in full swing! Sweet potatoes are a very versatile root vegetable. You can bake them up for a quick snack, mash them for a fiber-filled side or julienne them then bake for a beta-carotene packed fry! Luckily, sweet potatoes are naturally sweet and by adding a touch of sugar, you can also have an awesome dessert… hello sweet potato pie!

Mmm… pie is great, but warm pudding on a cold night is even better! This past weekend, I tried an amazing sweet potato pudding and needed to share the recipe with my readers. The cardamom powder adds to the earthiness and sweetness of the sweet potato. Try this recipe out for an easy peasy sweet potato pudding… I guarantee you will come back for seconds!


  • 3 large sweet potatoes
  • 2 cups of whole milk or cream
  • ¼ cup of brown sugar
  • 3TB of cardamom powder


Pierce each sweet potato a few times with a fork, then place in the microwave for 2-3 minutes, to cook. Once cooked and cooled, peel sweet potatoes and puree. Place the puree in a sauce pan and add the milk/cream, sugar and cardamom powder. Place on low heat and stir to combine. Once all liquid is absorbed, turn off heat and allow pudding to cool and thicken. Serve while still warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Servings: 2

Top image courtesy of

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On My iPod: Chocolate Milk, Didi, a Fragrant Garden & Everything Changes

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

Alright, it’s no secret to those who have been following my posts that I’ve recently rediscovered the wonder that is Nanni Moretti. In case you missed it, read my very personal piece about watching his latest We Have a Pope (Habemus Papam) at the ADFF.

But what few may have known, until now, is that thanks to the genius of Moretti, I’ve also unearthed and rediscovered four songs, by Mercedes Sosa, Rufus Wainwright, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Khaleb which I now play incessantly on my iPod — going to meetings, walking to the gym, or jogging around the park.

I’m sharing them with you, via SongSprite, but you can also watch the YouTube videos below. To purchase, well you know how to use iTunes, don’t you? N-joy!

Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk from Caos Calmo (not directed but only written by Moretti).


Todo Cambia from Habemus Papam.


Didi from Caro Diario.


Unfortunately, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s song “Yaad-e-Nabi Gulshan Mehka” is not on SongSprite, but here’s the YouTube video with images… The song is from Aprile.


P.S. The cool thing about SongSprite is that you add up all your songs, from a list of YouTube videos available, and then play it on your computer, iPad or Tablet, whenever, however, wherever you wish… And it’s legal. Just saying.

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