By Robyn and Doug Kalajian
FLArmenians Cuisine Contributors
Upon receiving news that our beautiful daughter Mandy would be joining us from New York City on a business trip to South Florida, we were forced to enjoy a wonderful meal in an absolutely idyllic setting.
For her, it was a grind, but it was a fun grind that involved escorting clients to art shows, performances and parties at glittering venues from the beach to downtown, often lasting well into the night. She was too busy or exhausted to chat, much less drag the old folks along.
However, as soon as the manic pace subsided, Mandy set aside a couple of days for fun with Mom and Dad. After regaling us with tales of her weeklong tour of chic South Beach eateries, she told us to pick any cuisine and any restaurant we liked for a family feast.
We picked the Hollywood Grill, possibly the world’s most unlikely setting for an Armenian restaurant.
A bit of explanation: When you think of Hollywood and Armenians, you probably think of Hollywood, California. The Florida city of the same name lies along the East Coast about halfway between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, very much in the heart of South Florida’s relatively small but growing Armenian-American community.
The restaurant’s most unusual feature is that it’s on the beach. Not near the beach or across from the beach but actually on it, separated from the dunes and ocean only by a sand-strewn walking path known as the Hollywood Broadwalk.
There are very few such venues in all of South Florida. There are none, of course, in Armenia. That alone makes it special.
It’s also appropriately beach-side casual, with a narrow dining area barely larger than a covered home patio and no more formal in furnishings or decor. The menu, however, is far bigger and more sophisticated than you’d expect to find in a row of cheese-steak-and-burger shacks.
Of course, this is an Armenian restaurant so the menu isn’t to be taken literally, as we discovered when asking our very friendly server for several lamb dishes that are apparently available only if ordered ahead.
I got a kick out of seeing khash listed, if only because you so seldom read the phrase “cow feet” on a menu. Alas, the waitress explained that the traditional feet-and-innards soup is best enjoyed before dawn and the restaurant doesn’t open until 1 p.m. As an Armenian, I appreciated the philosophical dilemma. I suspect “odars” might not, but they’re unlikely to order such a thing anyway.
The menu is also unusual in another way, at least for us: The fare is not just Armenian but also Russian and Georgian. Dining at Hollywood Grill is a uniquely Trans-Caucasian experience in a tropical setting. In fact, in 2006 the Broward New Times ran a story about the Hollywood Grill and it’s diverse South Caucasian cuisine.
We weren’t feeling quite so adventurous, so we passed up the dumplings and borscht and stuck with mostly familiar choices — and none disappointed us.
The Greek salad was far more than enough for three, and very much Armenian with large chunks of cucumber, tomato and Armenian cheese mixed with herbs. No lettuce, thank you. There are several other salads available, including one laced with basturma!
The stuffed cabbage was neatly done, with a generous and moist meat stuffing. The lule kebab was excellent. The lahmajoun was most impressive, with a crisp and clearly home-made crust and served with generous slices of fresh tomato as well as raw onion, parsley, and lemon.
In all, it was a very satisfying meal and we were able to walk off at least a few of the calories while enjoying the balmy breeze as we strolled along the crystal-blue oceanfront.
The smile on Mandy’s face showed us how much she enjoyed the meal. What you won’t see are the smiles on our faces. We enjoyed the meal, too, but we enjoyed the company even more.
Robyn Kalajian is a retired culinary teacher in Florida and Chief Cook at www.TheArmenianKitchen.com. Douglas Kalajian is a retired editor/journalist and Sous Chef at www.TheArmenianKitchen.com.
Campaign 2012: A Look Through the Armenian-American Lens
By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor
We are now less than a year away from the 2012 elections and the campaign trail is already heating up. The race for the white house has catapulted various GOP candidates to the top of the mountain, only to see them tumble from its peak. So far we have seen some historic debate gaffes, incredibly bold policy proposals and unorthodox candidates try to distinguish themselves from each other, all in an effort to be the anti-Romney; the presumptive GOP nominee. But this election season is going to be unlike any other. Fresh campaign tactics, new technologies, redistricting and the latest player in the political arena, the SuperPAC, are all poised to dramatically change the way Americans vote in 2012. And these factors will impact not only the presidential race. What we see in the presidential contest will be evident in congressional races as well.
So what does this all mean for the Armenian-American community? Let’s take a look.
In congressional elections, for decades Armenian-Americans have been active in raising Armenian issues and concerns, upon which politicians compete for our vote. In recent years, the small but growing Turkish-American community has followed suit. From its peak in the 110th Congress, the Congressional Armenian Caucus boasted over 160 Members of Congress. Today it stands at 135 Members strong. At the same time, the Congressional Turkish Caucus grew its ranks from just over 60 in 2006, to 126 Members today, a 200 percent growth rate.
So far this year, 17 House Democrats and 9 House Republicans have announced their retirement or will not be seeking re-election in their present seat. The number of outright retirements can be attributed in large part to the redistricting process, a once a decade phenomenon. The announced retirement of Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), a strong leader on Armenian issues, is a prime example. Additional retirement announcements can be expected in the coming weeks.
As of this writing, the Armenian Caucus is set to lose 9 Members: Representatives Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Dennis Cardoza (D-CA), Jerry Costello (D-IL), John Olver (D-MA), Barney Frank (D-MA) and Dale Kildee (D-MI) have all announced retirement. Congressman Kildee’s nephew, Dan Kildee, is a candidate for his uncle’s seat. In addition, three Armenian Caucus Members are running for other office: Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) is running for mayor of San Diego, Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT) is running to replace Joe Lieberman (I-CT) in the Senate and Rep. Shelly Berkeley (D-NV) is also running for the Senate. As of this writing, the Congressional Turkish Caucus is set to lose 7 Members: Reps. Mike Ross (D-AR), Dan Boren (D-OK) and Geoff Davis (R-KY) are retiring outright, while Reps. Connie Mack (R-FL), Denny Rehberg (R-MT) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) are running for the Senate. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) is running for Governor. Mack, Flake and Pence all sit on the House Foreign Affairs Committee where they voted against the Armenian Genocide resolution in 2007 and 2010.
Redistricting has resulted in some of the above retirements, but it is also putting pro-Armenian incumbents in head-to-head battles and making re-election much more difficult for others. Looking at congressional champions of Armenian issues, Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Armenian Genocide resolution sponsor Adam Schiff (D-CA) have not been adversely affected by redistricting. However, Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Ed Royce (R-CA) and Armenian Genocide resolution sponsor Robert Dold (R-IL) are not as fortunate. Redistricting has made Dold’s seat bluer, and given his narrow victory in 2010, he is a top target for Democrats in 2012. Congressman Ed Royce has also been victimized by redistricting, putting him in a dual-incumbent battle with Armenian Caucus Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA). In New Jersey, reports indicate that Armenian Caucus Member Steven Rothman (D-NJ) has decided to challenge his colleague, fellow Armenian Caucus member Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) in the redrawn 9th Congressional district, setting up a costly dual-incumbent primary.
The most prominent tete-a-tete battle to result from redistricting has put two pro-Armenian (and pro-Israel) incumbents in the same district: House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA) and House Foreign Affairs member Brad Sherman (D-CA), both champions on Armenian issues. Rep. Sherman has a decades-long record on Armenian issues, particularly the Armenian Genocide. Congressman Berman has a similarly strong record and as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in 2010, ensured the successful passage of H. Res. 252, the Armenian Genocide resolution. Berman is the favorite in the race, having ratcheted up over 30 endorsements, and enjoys the backing of three SuperPACs. A product of the 2010 Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court ruling, SuperPACs are independent expenditure only committee’s that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.
In addition to working with our friends in Congress, electing Armenian-Americans is long overdue. This year we saw a new face emerge, Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian who sought the Democratic nomination for the 1st Congressional district. Although unsuccessful, he was able to garner 22% of the vote in the primary, no small feat. As of this writing, only one Armenian-American has officially filed papers to run for Congress, while another is preparing to jump in: David Krikorian and Danny Tarkanian, respectively.
David Krikorian is no stranger to Armenians, having unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) in 2008 and 2010. Schmidt, the top recipient of Turkish PAC money, filed a complaint against Krikorian with the Ohio Elections Commission (OEC) after Krikorian accused her of taking Turkish “blood money” on campaign advertisements in the 2010 race. The OEC ruled in Schmidt’s favor. However, following the election, the House Ethics Committee began an investigation into the free legal services provided to Rep. Schmidt by the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund and the Turkish Coalition of American. Although the House Ethics Committee found no wrong doing on Schmidt’s part, she was ordered to repay the $500,000 legal bill and amend her financial forms to reflect this in-kind contribution. According to a December report in Roll Call, Schmidt “has yet to amend her financial disclosures or begin repaying the debt.”
Danny Tarkanian, the son of former University of Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, is preparing to run in the new 4th district of Nevada. According to a December poll by the conservative Pubic Opinion Strategies, Tarkanian overwhelmingly leads his primary challenger (73% to 9%) and when matched up with the Democratic front-runner, he holds an 11-point advantage. Tarkanian has not officially filed and has stated that he will announce his intentions in January.
Turning to the presidential race, we have President Obama, whose record on Armenian issues is not unfamiliar. Obama deserves acknowledgement for his audacity to speak about the Armenian Genocide inside the Turkish Parliament, something no U.S President has ever dared, and for overseeing the signing of historic Protocols by Turkey and Armenia. However, his broken promise of employing the proper term, Armenian Genocide, in the annual April 24 statement, as well his policies toward Azerbaijan, from disproportionate military funding to Ambassador Bryza’s recess appointment, leaves many Armenian-Americans skeptical.
Looking at the GOP field today, we have two front-runners: Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Neither can be viewed as favorable through the Armenian-American lens. During President Bill Clinton’s second term, then-Speaker Gingrich built a leadership team that consisted of Dick Armey, Robert Livingston, and Dennis Hastert; all of who went on to lobby on behalf of Turkey against U.S. reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide. Turning to Mitt Romney, it was positive to see pro-Armenian officials, such as former Senator Robert Dole (R-KS), Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) and former Congresswoman Susan Molinari (R-NY), endorse Romney for the GOP nomination. However, from a legislative standpoint, it is cause for concern that Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) is his Congressional liaison. In 2007, Blunt, then-House Republic Whip, was appointed by President Bush to the Foreign Affairs Committee the day before a vote on the Armenian Genocide resolution, in order to whip his Republican colleagues to vote against the bill. Recently, Senator Blunt won a top post, securing his position within the Republican Senate leadership, and is working to rake up Congressional support for Romney.
It’s definitely too early to say what is going to happen between now and November 6, especially in the race to the White House. While the focus is on the Republican primaries, Democrats are activating their grassroots in what is likely to become one of the nastiest and most expensive campaign seasons ever. In politics, anything is possible and there is certainly a long road ahead. In the meantime, it is critical that Armenian-Americans know where our elected officials stand, with whom they are associated, and their record in support or opposition to Armenian issues.
Taniel Koushakjian is an independent political commentator for Florida Armenians. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, and is currently enrolled at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management in Washington, D.C.
This article originally appeared in Massis Post.
*Correction: An earlier version mistakenly referenced Dan Kildee as his uncle, current Rep. Dale Kildee and misattributed Ranking Member Howard Berman’s 30 endorsements to his challenger Rep. Brad Sherman.
Updated January 9 at 6:00 pm.
The Florida Pomegranate?
By Robyn and Doug Kalajian
FLArmenians Cuisine Contributors
Published: August 18, 2011
Our license plates read “Sunshine State” and depict the ever-famous orange. But pomegranates?
According to the July 2011 issue of “Florida Agriculture” magazine, William Castle, professor emeritus at University of Florida and whose specialty is horticulture science, is studying the possibility of pomegranate production in the Sunshine State as an alternative to citrus.
Pomegranate trees are a common sight in California. The small trees produce an apple-sized, red fruit with juicy, ruby-like arils with a tart-sweet taste. TheArmenianKitchen.com has praised the health aspects of the pomegranate – full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and shared some recipes using this fruit’s arils and tasty juice. (See our recipes for homemade pomegranate jelly, and shish kebab marinade, too!)
Castle began his study two years ago with Jim Baldwin, a senior biologist at the Citrus Research and Education Center. Together they are examining every aspect associated with pomegranate-growing with the help of over 30 growers around the state.
If the study proves positive, there could be numerous small-scale pomegranate groves popping up in Central Florida. Castle is convinced that pomegranate groves are a real possibility, and interest among growers is on the rise.
Pomegranates are used as a fruit, for their juice, and can be used as an ‘edible ornament for home and business landscapes’.
Castle said that if pomegranate production takes off, consumers will see Florida-grown pomegranates next to California pomegranates in our stores – plus locally produced pomegranate juice and juice blends.
Watch out POM Wonderful!
Robyn Kalajian is a retired culinary teacher in Florida and Chief Cook at http://www.TheArmenianKitchen.com. Douglas Kalajian is a retired editor/journalist and Sous Chef at http://www.TheArmenianKitchen.com.