Sami's Reporter Blog

Love food, will travel

Saturday, May 17th, 2014
Sami Gillette

Some of my favorite parts of the day are lunch and dinner. What I love more than eating at home is when I travel and experience different food. Whether it’s take out, a fancy restaurant or street food – all of it is amazing. Food is by far the best way to experience a place, different cultures and to have a shared experience with friends. Here are some of my top favorites in the US and abroad:

- Pasta – Lupa Osteria Romana, NYC. This restaurant is owned by Mario Batali and the pasta was far beyond anything my mother or Italian cousin could ever come close to. Everything was incredibly fresh, the pasta had a texture and flavor that redefined my understanding of what pasta means. And the limoncello was wonderfully tart and lemony, as it was made fresh that day. Just make sure you come with someone who is financially conscious – without guidance I would have spent more $$$ than was wise (so easy to do).

- Brownies – made at home, are sometimes the best. They’re so good, you’d believe they were hand delivered by the Chocolate Gods:

- Street Food – Trinidad & Tobago. Though the Caribbean is hailed more often for its resorts than its cuisine, don’t let that fool you. Flavors are out of this world and the price at around $5 US can’t be beat. Personally, I would suggest grabbing a gyro on Ariapita Avenue, Port of Spain, chicken and fries at Smokey & Bunty’s or bake ‘n shark at Maracas Bay.

- Waffles – London. If you’re in the UK and happen to see a waffle truck called Waffles de Liege follow your nose and buy one. With or without toppings they are the best waffles I’ve ever had.

- Rice Cakes – Chinatown, NYC. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you where I had this dish but it was the best Chinese I’ve ever had, and once again, at a great price ($5).

- Wine – some of the best wine I’ve ever had was at a little restaurant in Wales. It was a German white wine and I fell in love. For those hoping to discover another great white wine I’d suggest looking at this article, which overviews Sancerre (a sauvignon blanc).

Bring back OUR girls

Monday, May 12th, 2014
Sami Gillette

On April 15, 2014, almost 300 girls were abducted by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram from a school in Nigeria. While this may not be news to many, as it has been a story flashing on media outlets for weeks, it is still powerful and frightening. People across the world have been outraged by the abduction and many have used social media and the hash tag #bringbackourgirls to raise a unified voice in protest. The United States and other countries have reached out to Nigeria and are finally allowed to assist in the recovery of the girls. Unfortunately, it has been over a month since the abduction and many fear the extremists have started to sell the girls into marriage.

One aspect of this story that is most striking is how unified and widespread the outcry has been in the international community. Yet, quite a few people in the news and on social media have raised the point – why is this story of 300 abducted garnering so much attention when many more horrific occurrences have taken place?

Honestly, this is a good point, but there is a valid reason the story has caused such a massive reaction. People are not discrediting or ignoring the tragedies and atrocities that are occurring across the globe. The civil war in Syria, the encroachment of Russia on Ukraine, the attack on the Kenyan shopping mall, famine across the globe and civil rights violations in numerous countries – these are just as significant, if not more horrific than the abduction. Even in Nigeria there have been numerous killings over ethnic and political lines for years by the Islamist group.

But there is one factor that makes this story powerful – child abduction is a fear that is universally translatable. Many can understand the fear for helpless children, of a parent losing a child, of young girls being controlled and abused by grown men. These fears can be grasped and understood by almost anyone – no matter the difference in nationality, religion, language or social standing.

In contrast, the immense amount of violence over political and religious controversy is so expansive and so prevalent in the media that many people are conditioned to expect it. Few are surprised to hear of war, of hunger and death in far away countries.

While the various global events going on are horrific and such “conditioning,” is disconcerting, there is hope. Just as the story of the Nigerian school girls has caught global attention, we can continue to build on being part of an international community. Technology has enabled us to exchange news and maintain connections all across the globe – we are forever entwined.

With this ever growing interconnectedness comes a more defined sense of responsibility. As an international community we should continue to set standards and work together so every person has the same rights and liberties that American citizens are born with.

No, the US does not have to play babysitter – that is not its job, nor is it qualified to oversee the rest of the world by itself. But as an international community we can work together to support and help each other.

Countries do not have to agree or even understand the ways of other countries, but mutual respect and an understanding of the basic fact we are ALL humans can go a long way. So as an American citizen, as a human, as a woman, as a part of this international community I ask – bring back OUR girls.

Swept away on an ‘Odyssey’

Sunday, May 4th, 2014
Sami Gillette

This Friday I attended the premiere of S-E Drama Club’s “The Odyssey” and was impressed with the actors both individually and their work with the set. Adapted by Thomas Hischack for the stage from Homer’s classic work, the play was directed by Colleen Law-Tefft.
The set mainly consisted of large blocks and a few other simplistic pieces, which brought the focus more on the actors and the story they portrayed. It was not difficult to be swept up in the story – I felt as if I was in Troy watching as Odysseus and his men combatted their opponents. I watched as they fought the towering Cyclops, were bewitched by Circe and navigated Poseidon’s angry seas.
What I love best about the play is that it is a story of family, courage, and most importantly, of endurance.
Towards the end of the play Telemachus summarized it best when he said, “The gods do all of the magic, but in the end it is the mortals that fight the battle.”
All of the actors did a good job portraying their characters and I was very impressed with Lukas Fetzko, who played “a stranger.” He had the most lines to remember as he served as narrator throughout the play. He was able to capture the wisdom of his character, as well as his fortitude.
Dmitri Sofranko was very compelling as Odysseus and came across as a strong and determined leader. The suitors were equally humorous and repugnant with their sorry attempts to win Queen Penelope’s hand. The queen was ever gracious and hospitable despite the horrible circumstances.
The other members worked well acting as multiple characters. One group served as nymphs, handmaidens, sirens and even the dangerous waters of Charybdis by moving around with blue scarves.
Danielle Purdy played a seductive and intriguing Calypso, while the nurse and Athena highlighted the strength and importance of female characters in the play.
The play was at times humorous, moving and sad, especially when Odysseus lost all of his men and was kept on Calypso’s island for many years. His return home was everything one would hope – evil was defeated and a king was returned to his rightful place, reunited with his family after 20 years.
I spoke with the actors after the show and they were all pleased with the performance. Sofranko explained that he liked the challenge of working with the set.
Rachel Taylor, who played the nurse, added to this when she said, “It’s different being your own stage crew here.”
For me the play emphasized the importance of theatre, especially for students. Some of my favorite memories were acting and working in stage crew during high school. I felt included and was able to interact with other students.
Law-Tefft explains it best in the “From the Director’s Chair.”
“…theatre can become a great way of pulling people together from various backgrounds and experiences,” she wrote. “They are all working toward finding the truth in the script and what the author intended, then presenting it for the audience’s enjoyment.”

A special kind of double

Friday, April 25th, 2014
Sami Gillette

As Mother’s Day approaches, normally I would quip and simper about how much I love my mom, which I DO. Absolutely. But that seems a little cliché and I feel like using this white space and your attention span more wisely by discussing something else. I have just learned that my little sister, my baby sister, my accomplice in all things devious… is expecting a baby.
Need I emphasize that she is my YOUNGER sister? I think it is this fact, this long ago logistical occurrence that made me the eldest, which is shaking me a bit. I’m the one that is supposed to experience and do everything first. How am I supposed to guide my siblings with my wisdom if they are so far ahead of me in this game called life?
Now, that’s not to say that I’m gung-ho to have my own baby (I’m pretty certain a male counterpart is required for that, anyway). But I would love to be able to guide my sister through this scary and exciting process.
I think I could manage changing a diaper but I get uneasy whenever I hold an infant (which has been a rare occurrence). And my mom and sister always smirk at me when I talk about being a mother. Do they know something I don’t?
Their reaction is valid. I do tend to panic when a baby starts crying. What do I do? How do I make it stop? I also happen to like my independence and would love to travel more. I’m certainly not planning on saving money for baby food and formula. God forbid, future college payments. I’m just beginning to pay off my own.
Perhaps I should stop worrying… My sister has a natural grace and easiness with children, especially babies, that I’ve always admired and often envied. She was always the more maternal one out of the two of us.
Toni Morrison once said, “A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves – a special kind of double.”
While my sister is separate from me in that we are going down very different paths, she is also a part of me. She is an extension of myself and I look forward to this epic, life-long journey. She may be a mother, and I may be an aunt, but we will remain sisters. Strong and steadfast.

Easter dinner: tradition or innovation?

Thursday, April 17th, 2014
Sami Gillette

Holidays, as much as they resonate with religious and/or historic importance, are also the times when I celebrate the joys, challenges and vibrancy of food. From appetizers, entrees and dessert to wine and various accoutrements, I am in love. A, let’s waltz in the rain, hold hands as we grow old, fairy tale, type of love that has as much to do with my head as my stomach.
For me, food is an exploration of history, cultures and an exercise in commonality. Everyone has to eat, right? So, as Easter approaches, I revel in the experience of preparation and planning.
Most of the food my grandmothers, mother and I will prepare this coming Sunday has already been pre-determined. Drawing from their memories of Easter as children, my grandmothers have shared the recipes and the know-how to my mother, sister and I. In my family this knowledge is basic, but fundamental, and is one of the best, most treasured legacies.
The main event of Easter dinner (that’s right, dinner not brunch) includes a baked ham, studded with cloves and a sweet glaze. Pink and tender, it always has the right blend of salt, sweet and smoke. In addition to the ham there are deviled eggs (which my grandma is renowned for), mashed potatoes, gravy, baked beans, various salads and, to finish, sumptuous pies (of the apple and pumpkin variety). Everything is simply, but lovingly prepared, and reminds me of my family’s roots. We come from rural, country folk and the food is a celebration of the local farmers and produce that serve as the foundation for each dish.
As much as I relish in these dishes and look forward to sampling them each Easter, I’ve also realized how much Easter dinner can vary for each family. The variety grows exponentially when one steps outside of the Christian holiday to consider food prepared by those of other faiths in celebration of other holidays.
But for now I’ll focus on Easter dishes that I’ve found and would love to try – especially those that center around brunch rather than dinner (of which I’m most accustomed). Though different from the recipes I grew up with, they sound just as delicious and have that extra spice that only newness can provide.
First, I’d love to explore a recipe that involves fresh, rather than cured ham. Sam Sifton, from the Dining & Wine department of The New York Times, suggests buying a fresh ham from a local butcher. In regards to preparation he writes, “An easier route to fresh-ham perfection involves simply scoring the skin of the ham in a diamond pattern, then rubbing a mixture of salt and pepper all over the skin, pressing it down into the fat between the cuts.”
He goes on with cooking directions and instructs the cook to baste with, “…a mixture of balsamic vinegar, maple syrup and cinnamon, as well as with the fat in the bottom of the pan. The rind will grow crisper and darker along the way.”
I don’t know about you but this description, paired with an equally tantalizing picture, made me drool. Ok, almost drool (I was taught some semblance of manners).
I also would like to try this recipe, baked eggs with spinach and mushrooms, which looks delectable. Smitten Kitchen is one of my favorite blogs to snoop out new, well-tested recipes and this particular recipe has the added perk of being healthy, gluten/grain-free, vegetarian and has a very pretty presentation.
The last recipe I will share, and continue to fantasize about, is a lemon and blueberry cupcake recipe I saw air on FoodNetwork. I made sure to track it down online because it seems like a perfectly sweet and not too heavy ending to the Easter meal. With fresh grated lemon, fresh blueberries and a lemony buttercream, I could barely resist darting into the kitchen after seeing her pull them out of the oven.
While I may not have the time or ambition to try all three of these recipes, I do promise to try one. Stay tuned – a report on said recipe will soon follow! Though I will need time to sip a glass of wine and clean the much dreaded dishes…

The Struggle of Life, the Beauty of Friends

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014
Sami Gillette

I graduated from college in 2012 and I have to say – finding decent work, much less a career I love, has been an excruciating, long and discouraging process. Yes, I know many people who graduated with degrees in finance, the sciences, or happen to be trust-fund babies and are doing very, very well. But for the rest of us, especially those who love and studied the humanities like myself, it has been a huge struggle to find work that pays the bills. Even more difficult to find work that feeds our souls.

I have friends who work in food service, have administrative jobs, hold positions at banks, work in marketing and teach. The list goes on.

Though their level of satisfaction with their paycheck, career trajectory and expendable income varies widely, I’m beginning to see a spark of hope. We are slowly getting there. Don’t get me wrong – there are still massive set backs and mishaps. But overall the people I graduated with are edging closer to finding creativity and satisfaction in their work (including me).

There has also been a slow but steady change into actual adulthood, which is both scary and exciting to see. He married her? She had whose baby? They have their own house? What?!

Pause. While these changes are lovely, I am comfortable delaying this set of forever life-altering events. I like to think my close friends and I are taking our time. Some of us are considering graduate school and all of us are law-abiding, tax paying citizens who work hard for our somewhat measly income. We balance this with active social lives and finding cute outfits that fit our budget. Toss in the complicated mess that is dating the opposite sex and we are very busy.

There are two facts that I’ve learned since graduation. The first – life rarely works out the way you’d expect. In order to navigate this unknown landscape you must remain true to yourself and maintain constant self-awareness. The second – connections, from friends and family to even random encounters, are what ground you when everything else blows up. They will be there to serve as guides, to pass along the tissues as you cry, and best of all, they will serve as your champion when you forget your potential.

Now that the blinders of childhood have come off, I’ve realized that life is rarely easy. Then again, no one promised it would be. As a result, my friends and I have learned the importance of friendship. We may not be headed in the same direction, but we will move forward together. By supporting each other we can conquer the world. And hopefully won’t break too many hearts along the way…

First Day Jitters

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
Sami Gillette

When I arrived at the Evening Sun for my first day as a reporter I had to sit in my car for a few minutes after I pulled into the parking lot. I wiped my palms on my pants because they were sweaty and made sure to take a few deep breaths. But as soon as I entered the office I relaxed because Ashley and Matt greeted me with warm and friendly smiles – even though I was interrupting their meeting. Matt asked me to sit and went into a break down of a typical day.

They both made me feel at ease and answered my questions, which were quite numerous considering the fact that I have never worked as a journalist before. Don’t get me wrong – I have enjoyed writing since I was little (just ask my mom). But I haven’t had much experience interviewing before (yikes!) and my note taking can get pretty messy. So please, dear reader, if I happen to interview you, I would greatly appreciate patience and understanding as I navigate my way through asking questions.

But I digress… After figuring out what story idea I should pitch for my first article the fun continued. I was introduced to Richard Snyder, owner of Snyder Communications, who was very warm and informative. Shawn offered to show me around and I was able to meet District Attorney Joseph McBride and Mayor Joseph Maiurano. He thought it best I meet them because I will be covering the cases that appear in the courtroom – a task I am excited to take on.

Overall, I feel lucky to have joined a fun team, I’ve started a career that will allow me to write and get paid for it (everyone in the journalism industry knows how rare a thing that is), and I get to interview the people that make up the area and home I love. I couldn’t ask for more than that!