Dinner And Bikes 2013: An Annual Tour To Grow The Bicycle Movement

There’s a lot of talk about bikes these days. From single speeds in New York City to nighttime tours in Guatemala City and the bike share in Paris, the discussion of bicycles as a real means of alternative transportation is taking hold in a big way.

But talking about bikes in cycle centric hotspots like Portland, San Francisco and New York is only part of the step. As with anything, getting more people on two wheels means getting people engaged all over the country. And that’s where Dinner and Bikes comes in.

The annual month-long tour is a traveling combination of bicycle inspiration, vegan food and pop-up bookstores that brings people together to get inspired about bicycle transportation. If you’re a bike junkie, it’s hard to resist.So what do you get from a Dinner and Bikes evening? A gourmet, vegan and gluten-free buffet dinner prepared by Joshua Ploeg, a presentation by Elly Blue on transportation equity and the everyday bicycling movement, and a near-complete excerpt from “Aftermass,” Joe Biel‘s forthcoming documentary about the history of bicycling in Portland. This year, they’re hitting up the Midwest and Northeast, with over 30 events from Michigan to New York. You can find the full schedule for May and June here.

Elly took time to answer a few questions about the tour and the inspiration behind it. And in perfect nomadic traveler form, she answered them on an Amtrak train somewhere between Portland and Chicago.

What was the inspiration for Dinner and Bikes?

In 2010, Joe and I did a tour called Bikestravaganza around the Western US. It was similar to what we do now, but just the two of us talking and showing movies about bikes. The idea was to energize people about bikes, show them a little of what we’ve seen is possible, and also let them know that Portland’s bike-friendly streets weren’t this huge, unattainable goal, but that in fact our achievements could easily be matched or surpassed by any city or town that wanted to. It went great, but one big problem was that the event was always during dinnertime. Everyone was hungry including us! We invited Joshua to join us the next year and it all fell into place.

Why bikes?

When I first started bicycling, it was liberating and it’s continued to be so at a personal level. Culturally, though, it’s about as good as it gets as far as a movement goes. With bikes, everyone wins and there’s no problematic temptation to put someone else’s happiness or livelihood secondary to your cause, as is the case in a lot of other social movements. Also, even when people are vehemently anti-bike, they usually change their mind once they start riding. So even when it’s polarized, it isn’t really. That photo of Senator Schumer smiling as he rides down the cycle track he fought so hard to prevent? That’s why I do it.

How do you decide which places you visit/where you host dinners? Why the central/northeast for the 2013 tour?

It’s an inexact science. As we go on tour, people’s friends in other cities hear about the events and get in touch to invite us to their town. I keep track of all the invitations in my spreadsheet, and then Joe and I go out to breakfast with an atlas and a notebook and create a route that we can do in a month that incorporates as many of those cities as possible. Then I set to work filling in the gaps. I believe the impetus for the Midwest/Northeast route is the result of invitations from folks in Michigan and DC. Next year I already know where we’re going: up and down the eastern seaboard, Maine to Miami. People should get in touch if they want to talk about doing a stop.

Having traveled around the country talking about bikes, how do you think the attitude towards bikes differs by region?

People who are deeply involved with their local bike scene read a lot of the same blogs and articles, so there is some unity in the movement. But local attitudes generally differ quite a bit, and in unexpected ways. A lot depends on the culture, layout and politics of a city. Some cities have a culture of being polite, so even if most people don’t understand bicycling, they don’t mind waiting a bit till it’s safe to pass the person riding in front of their truck. In other cities, there’s some kind of hostile force against it, maybe driving culture or city planning or the police – which oddly enough often has the result of catalyzing a far stronger bike movement.

What was the most surprising location you have visited in terms of their support for cycling?

Over the last four years, I’ve learned not to be surprised. Everyone’s got their stereotypes, like only big cities like bikes, or only small cities, or only liberal cities or secular cities or gentrified neighborhoods or cities with lots of young white creative class people. None of these things are true. People like bikes who have started bicycling already is the only generalization I can make. Once you get riding and have just the barest amount of community and infrastructure to support you, there’s no turning back.

Is it true that you travel only by train and by bike?

Nope, we rent a car to travel from city to city. If we’re lucky, we get to go on bike rides in some of the cities. I am still trying to figure out how to do it all by train, but we would pretty much have to have a source of funding from outside the tour in order to make that happen. I see it as an opportunity to not totally lose touch with the car-oriented reality of most of the US.

Any top tips for traveling by bike?

I’ve only been bike touring a few times, but I will say it’s important not to run out of water, and always to talk to people.

Check out the Dinner and Bikes 2013 schedule here.

[Photo Credits: Dinner and Bikes, Elly Blue]

A Day On Santa Fe’s Canyon Road

canyon roadI’m not what could be described as a patron of the arts, yet for some reason, I seem to have a knack for living in cities famed for their galleries and arts and culture scene: Vail. Lahaina. Santa Barbara. Calistoga. Telluride. Could I be a latent art groupie?

Nah. I’m just attracted to scenic places. I also spent many years waiting tables to support my writing habit, and it’s always been my belief that if I’m going to suffer for my art, then I’m sure as hell going to live someplace beautiful … where I can also make mad tips.

I’ve never lived in Santa Fe, but I’ve spent a lot of time in what’s best described as the arts epicenter of the Southwest. I’ve written of my obsession with the city’s restaurants, but my fondness for Canyon Road is more about visual, rather than prandial, pleasures. According to its official website, “within a few short blocks, visitors to Canyon Road can experience more than two centuries of the historic adobe architecture for which Santa Fe is famous…”

Located within walking distance of downtown and the Plaza, this 3/4-mile stretch of galleries, boutiques, cafes, restaurants, and artists’ studios is world-renown amongst art collectors, particularly those attracted to Southwestern and Native American themes.

For me, Canyon Road is less about the art, and more about people watching, architecture, and cultural immersion. And let’s face it: with my writer’s salary, I’m hardly in the market for “investment pieces.” The great thing about Canyon Road, however, is you don’t need money or an interest in art to enjoy it.canyon roadOver the years, I’ve spent many peaceful hours, in all four seasons, wandering Canyon Road. I especially love the enchanting adobe homes that line the side streets and far eastern end.

There’s no bad time of day to visit, but I prefer early morning, before the galleries open, when the only signs of life are dog walkers and the odd sidewalk washer. A late afternoon or evening stroll or run is my other favorite way to experience Canyon Road. The hoards of tourists are gone, and I can pop in and out of galleries as I get in some much-needed exercise (eating, as I’ve mentioned, being my other favorite activity in Santa Fe).

See
What galleries you choose to visit of course depends upon your interests. For what it’s worth, I love Pachamama, a lovely shop specializing in Spanish Colonial antiques and Latin American folk art – both passions of mine. The owner, Martha Egan, is a renown scholar of Latin folk art, and has written some excellent books on the subject. One of the reasons I enjoy this storesanta fe is that it’s full of affordable treasures. I also love Curiosa, a quirky boutique selling milagros, folk art, jewelry and other trinkets.

Eat/Drink
Canyon Road is home to some of Santa Fe’s most famous (and expensive) restaurants, including Geronimo, The Compound, and the venerable El Farol. Personally, I suggest you save your money and fuel up with breakfast at The Teahouse, located at the eastern end. In addition to things like steel-cut oatmeal and house-made granola, they make absolutely insane, gluten-free “scones (more like muffins)” topped with a mantle of crusty melted cheese, green chiles and a soft-boiled egg.

If you’re jonesing to start your day with authentic New Mexican food, you can do no better than the pork or chicken tamales at Johnnie’s Cash Store (above), less than a ten-minute walk from the galleries, on Camino Don Miguel. Go early, and as the name implies, bring cash. Five dollars will fill you up.
inn on the alameda
While you may want to skip the more spendy places for a meal, the patio of El Farol is a favorite spot for an afternoon glass of wine or beer, or happy hour cocktail. The Tea House also serves beer, wine and coffee drinks.

For an afternoon pick-me-up, head down Canyon Road, and turn left onto Acequia Madre, which has some of the area’s most beautiful adobes. Make a right on Paseo de Peralta, cross the street, and you’ll see Kakawa Chocolate House. Revive with a hot or cold sipping chocolate (“elixirs”) and a sweet treat; the red chile caramel coated in dark chocolate is outstanding.

Stay
My favorite hotel in Santa Fe just happens to be located around the corner from Canyon Road. The Inn on the Alameda (right) is an attractive Pueblo-style property with 72 spacious, comfortable rooms, many with French doors and balconies. It’s not the hippest spot in town, as it’s popular with older travelers. I suspect it has something to do with the elaborate full breakfasts and the daily wine and cheese happy hour, both of which are gratis for guests. And really, who in their right mind wouldn’t love a deal like that?

Don’t let the median age dissuade you if you’re a bright young thing. The hotel has stellar service, an outdoor hot tub, free parking, allows pets and is close to all of Santa Fe’s attractions. It’s also across the street from a bucolic creekside running path, and offers killer packages (especially if you’re a food-lover) in conjunction with the Santa Fe School of Cooking, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the farmers market. A stay here always feels like coming home to me, but then, Santa Fe just has that way about it.

P.S. Canyon Road on Christmas Eve is a vision of fairy lights and farolitos.

[Photo credits: gallery, Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau; gallery, Flickr user xnergy; Johnnie’s Cash Store, Laurel Miller; Inn on the Alameda; Alice Marshall Public Relations]

Keeping Kosher In Muslim Istanbul

kosher Istanbul - Levi's restaurant
Before I lived in Turkey, I thought roasted chestnuts just existed in old Christmas carols. In Istanbul, they are sold on many street corners, priced by the gram and varying in quality. They have also been a major form of sustenance for several of my houseguests. My friend with a gluten allergy bought a bag of them nightly, saying they were the closest food to bread she could still eat. They also became a mainstay for a recent guest with the most challenging dietary restriction yet: eating an all-kosher diet in a mostly Muslim country.

Our friend decided at the last minute to fly in from Israel to spend a long weekend in Istanbul. I was almost glad for the short warning, as it gave me less time to worry and wonder. Is halal the same as kosher? If you have to ask, the diets have some things in common (i.e. no pork), but they are about as compatible as their respective religions. Would he be able to even eat anything from our very non-kosher kitchen, freshly stocked with pork products from Greece? Stock up on disposable plates to serve vegetarian dishes, and you’re golden. What could we do during the Saturday Sabbath, when using electricity or exchanging money is forbidden? Wandering is a good activity, one that is well suited to this city.Turning to the trusty Google for kosher Istanbul ideas, I came up with mostly outdated listings for restaurants that have since closed and odd suggestions like trying to get into the Jewish home for the aged near the Galata tower. Though Istanbul is home to nearly 20,000 Jews, they apparently aren’t dining out much. The single kosher restaurant we found open to the public is Levi’s in Eminönü, a few steps from the Spice Market. Accessed through an old and rather decrepit han (a large commercial building), it has excellent views of the Golden Horn and a decor that hasn’t been updated in several decades. Levi’s serves standard Turkish food: grilled meats, kofte meatballs, salads and such, all certified kosher. I was likely the first foreign shiksa to dine there in some time, and like all Turkish establishments, they fussed and fawned over my baby and offered her sweets.

When it came time for the Friday night Sabbath and services, I had an edge in knowing a nearby synagogue in Şişli, as I used to live across the street. After the 2003 bombings, most of the city’s synagogues are heavily guarded by local police and accessible only with prior permission and identification. Unfortunately, our friend only learned he’d need his Israeli passport once he got there, and as one can’t carry anything during the Sabbath, he had no identification or way to contact us to bring it. He went instead just to Shabbat dinner at a local rabbi’s house, climbing the stairs back to our apartment in total darkness.

On Saturday, I walked him back to the rabbi’s for lunch, and when Google Maps failed to find the house number, my friend’s yamulke and tallit helped us find our way. As soon as some Turkish men spotted my friend, they escorted us to the rabbi’s house; evidently they’ve learned how to identify a Jewish visitor! At lunch, our friend met a few other Jewish travelers who found themselves in Istanbul for various reasons, who reported that they had to pretend they had forgotten their hotel room keys as they couldn’t operate the electronic key cards during the Sabbath. They had all found the rabbi through the Chabad-Lubavitch organization (you may have seen their mitzvah tanks in New York City), which connects Jews around the world, and found community even in a primarily Muslim city.

As we broke the Sabbath that night at a rooftop bar with a couple of Efes beers (most non-grape based alcohols are kosher, so beer is fine), I apologized for our non-kosher friendly city, but our friend declared one Istanbul one of his all-time favorite cities. Despite a diet of mostly fruit and vegetables, chestnuts and whatever random snack products available at the supermarket with the kosher symbol, he had gotten a taste of Turkey without a single kebab.

Levi’s Kosher restaurant is open weekdays for lunch only. Tahmis Kalçın Sokak, Çavuşbaşı Han 23/10, near Hamdi Restaurant in Eminönü. Find more info on the Turkish Jewish community here and here.

Use an “I can’t eat this” card – Dining out tip

Before you go out of the country, make a few wallet-sized cards that list what you can and can’t eat in the native language(s) of the country you’re visiting.

I like to list what I’m able to eat on one side of the card… and list the foods I can’t have on the other. This makes it so the server and kitchen can’t easily mix them up.

This is especially helpful for vegetarian and vegans, people with religious dietary restrictions, and people with food allergies.